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Talks set for troop pullback

Talks set for troop pullback

preahvihear

Negotiations to pave the way for the withdrawal of Cambodian and Thai troops from disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple could take place before the end of the month, Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said yesterday.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
A Cambodian soldier relaxes at Preah Vihear temple in February last year.

Though no precise date had yet been set for a meeting of the Cambodian-Thai Joint Working Group ­– intended to facilitate the withdrawal of troops from a Provisional Demilitarised Zone – an invitation from Thailand was expected soon, he said.

“We are ready to attend the meeting … and we hope that the meeting will be conducted later this month,” he said.

The Joint Working Group was established last month during a meeting of the General Border Committee, during which the neighbouring countries negotiated steps to withdraw troops from the 17-square-kilometre Provisional Demilitarised Zone following a ruling of the International Court of Justice on July 18 last year.

At an ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh yesterday, Defence Minister Tea Banh said the group would discuss details of how troops in the Provisional Demilitarised Zone would withdraw to make way for a Joint Observer Team comprised of Cambodian, Thai and Indonesian monitors.

“We will conduct detailed discussions about the implementation of the ICJ [ruling], and especially the Provisional Demilitarised Zone,” he said.

“The redeployment or the withdrawal of troops will be a very important topic.”

Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that Indonesian Military chief Admiral Agus Suhartono said that his country’s border observers would be deployed to Preah Vihear by May 2 “at the latest”.

However, Cambodian Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong yesterday denied any deadline had been set for the deployment of observers.

“The Cambodian government also [has] said that the deployment of observers would be done at the time of military pullout and so far there is no fixed date yet for military withdrawal from the Provisional Demilitarised Zone,” he said.

Meanwhile, fears of renewed military clashes rose on Monday after Cambodian and Thai troops reportedly encountered one another near the Phu Makhua mountain in the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

A source close to Thai Defence spokesman Thanatip Sawangsaeng said a dispute arose because it was unclear whether the troops were in Cambodian or Thai territory.

“There was no violence or shots fired, they were just talking, and the latest development is that the local units are talking about a conclusion to the problem,” he said, adding that measures had been taken to warn tourists from the area.

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