A Cambodian soldier sits with his automatic rifle only a few metres of Thai troops at Preah Vihear
C ambodia and Thai foreign ministers emerged from epic crisis talks in Siem Reap earlier this week with a recommendation that troops from both countries be withdrawn from disputed territory near Preah Vihear temple in a move that is hoped to end a military stand off that is entering its third week.
Following 12 hours of talks on Monday, the ministers announced an agreement to return to their governments with recommendations for a quick drawdown of their respective troops from Preah Vihear and the nearby disputed 4.8 square kilometres, which encompass a pagoda Thai troops have occupied during the faceoff.
However, they did not state any concrete plans for troop reduction, and Thai and Cambodian military leaders remain uncommitted to withdrawal, saying they had yet to receive orders from above.
The next step: more talks between the two foreign ministers.
“We cannot solve all the problems in one meeting,” Cambodian Foreign Minster Hor Namhong said. “We need to do it step-by-step, but the first and most important issue is redeploying troops away from the temple area.”
His Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag agreed, saying, “I will immediately make a report to send to the [Thai] Council of Ministers.”
Aside from agreeing to recommend military withdrawals and to meet again among themselves, the ministers said they would also request an urgent convention of the Joint Commission on Demarcation of Land Boundary and the establishment of a temporary special task force, not unlike the group assembled to oversee compensation for Thai interests damaged in the 2003 nationalist riots.
They also agreed to recommend that their governments expedite the demining of border areas needing to be surveyed and demarcated.
Hor Namhong said Cambodia would continue to sit on its complaints to the UN Security Council over what Cambodia sees as a Thai incursion into its territory. The complaint was suspended after both sides agreed to Monday’s talks.
“Now that the meeting has moved forward, I understand we should postpone our complaint to the UN for a while,” he said.
In Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen placed the burden of cooperation on the Thai side, claiming Cambodia is ready to resolve the matter.
“We understand the difficulty of our Thai friends, who must ask permission and discuss with their government and other institutions about Thailand’s internal affairs.
“So this problem is about how long the Thais need to ask for a political decision from the Thai government. For our side, it is no problem. The problem is: When will Thailand decide to take action?”
(Additional reporting by Mum Kuntear)