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Border tensions rise

Border tensions rise

Thousands of Yellow Shirt protesters in Bangkok have called for the Thai government to take a stronger stance against Cambodia, though military officials said today that a stand-off along the countries’ contentious border had been averted.

Some 3,000 police officers have been deployed in the Thai capital to control the estimated 5,000 activists who took to the streets of central Bangkok on Tuesday, threatening to occupy the prime minister’s office as they did for three months during unrest in 2008.

Cambodian officials near Preah Vihear temple said about 40 Thai troops had traveled to the nearby border area this morning, though they withdrew after talks between commanders of the respective forces.

Following the meeting, Cambodian troops agreed to remove a sign placed near the temple on Tuesday that declared the area Cambodian territory.

“Now we have no more confrontation and both sides have returned to their camps,” said Om Phirum, heritage police chief of the Preah Vihear National Authority.

“The withdrawal of the Thai troops came after Cambodia agreed to take away the sign.”

The offending sign, which read “Here! is Cambodia”, had replaced a similar sign placed last month that accused Thai troops of invading Cambodian territory.

Thai military commanders and Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had publicly complained about the message.

Thai military deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak acknowledged that the protesters in Bangkok had increased the tension surrounding the border issue, though he said Thai and Cambodian troops “are in contact at all levels” and would not let the situation spill over into violence.

Recent military exercises conducted by Thai troops in the area, he added, were routine procedure and were unrelated to relations with Cambodia.

“We try not to do anything provocative, and we still believe everything can be settled with talks,” Veerachon said.

The oft-strained relations between Thailand and Cambodia were upgraded last year following the resignation of ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a bitter rival of the Abhisit administration, from his position as economics adviser to the Cambodian government.

Tensions returned last month, however, following the arrest of a Thai parliamentarian and six other Thai nationals for allegedly trespassing on Cambodian territory.

Five of the Thais, including ruling party MP Panich Vikitsreth, were released last week on suspended sentences, though two others are being held on espionage charges and are set to be tried next week.

Panthep Puapongpan, a spokesman for the Yellow Shirts, said those protesting in Bangkok were angered by the arrests and other alleged Cambodian provocations along the border.

“We don’t want to invade their territory, but we want to protect our land,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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