Hopes for quick withdrawal of Thai troops dashed
CAMBODIAN officials said Thursday that the postponement of border talks with Thailand would delay the withdrawal of Thai troops from around Cambodian temples, pushing the military standoff over disputed territory deeper into stalemate.
The meeting, which was to be held today in Siem Reap, was abruptly cancelled by the Thai side Wednesday, said Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence.
Neang Phat said the cancellation came as a surprise. "I was told on Wednesday afternoon that the meeting was cancelled," he said.
"They did not give us a reason, but we think it has something to do with their current internal political problems," he added, saying that the meeting has not yet been rescheduled.
"The cancellation means that Thai soldiers will remain in our territory," Var Kimhong, chairman of the Joint Border Committee, told the Post Thursday.
"We are focusing on the withdrawal of all Thai armed forces, and we want them out as soon as possible," he added.
Council of Ministry spokesman Phay Siphan said his Thai counterparts informed him that they were busy and unable to attend today's meeting, scheduled as a follow-up to last month's negotiations between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin.
"I don't think the dispute at Preah Vihear temple will become a shooting war," Phay Siphan added. "The temple is a tourist destination. The situation there remains normal, and we have no need to face off militarily."
However, he said that the postponement is regrettable.
"I was sorry to hear of it," he said. "We wanted a fast resolution to the dispute. But as long as both sides show good will, we have a chance for good results."
He said he has received no official information about when the meeting will be rescheduled.
Tim Sareth, deputy chief of the Cambodia-Thailand border relations office, said he is working to reschedule the talks. "We know they are having serious problems with demonstrations, so they need to resolve these issues first," Tim Sareth said.
Soldiers from both sides remain deployed at the flashpoint Preah Vihear temple.