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Troops leave temple as top diplomats to meet

Troops leave temple as top diplomats to meet

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Military commanders say redeployment of Cambodian and Thai soldiers is a good omen for today’s border talks between foreign ministers

HENG CHIVOAN

Union leader Rong Chhun leads a protest in Phnom Penh on Sunday against the Thai presence at Preah Vihear.

ALMOST all Cambodian and Thai troops have left their positions at Preah Vihear ahead of talks later today aimed at resolving the military standoff over disputed land around the 11th-century World Heritage Site, commanders said over the weekend.

The redeployment of hundreds of soldiers has raised hopes that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart, Tej Bunnag, will reach a solution to the crisis when they meet in Thailand for a second round of negotiations over the issue.

"Both sides have withdrawn most of their armed forces," Long Sovann, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said on Sunday. "The [tensions] have mostly eased ... I believe the negotiations will solve the situation."

The talks come a day after police broke up a gathering by about 100 factory workers and teachers protesting the Thai presence at Preah Vihear, led by Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.

"Why do the Cambodian police ... fight with the Cambodian people but against foreign aggressors they become cowards," Rong Chhun said after riot police halted the protest.

Rights groups Licadho and Adhoc condemned the authorities' handling of the demonstration, saying that several people were pushed around by the police while dozens of factory workers were illegally detained on the outskirts of Phnom Penh as they tried to enter the city. "The government should solve the Preah Vihear border issue as soon as possible," said Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth.

Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers from both sides dug in at Preah Vihear following the July 15 border incursion by Thai troops in the latest flare-up over 4.8 square kilometres of disputed land around the temple complex.

A first round of talks last month ended with an agreement that both sides would recommend troops be redeployed but little progress was made on the ground. Troops began to withdraw last week as Cambodia and Thailand prepared for Monday's meeting, leaving only a handful at a pagoda on the temple grounds and on the road leading to Preah Vihear.

"We hope we will get some successes from this meeting - we will try our best to get a fruitful result," Sin Bunthoeun, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told the Post on Sunday.

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