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Troops remain in disputed border territory

Troops remain in disputed border territory

RCAF soldiers were transported out of areas near the Thailand-Cambodia border after being replaced by new units last year. Photograph: supplied

Contrary to predictions in a Thai media report, yesterday came and went without Cambodia announcing it would unilaterally withdraw troops from a provisional demilitarised zone at the disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander-in-chief General Chea Tara suggested there were plans to redeploy troops inside the demilitarised zone but declined to say to where or when.

“Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] doesn’t want to have war at the border,” Tara said. “We respect the order of the ICJ in July, 2011 and the interests of the people of both countries.”

On July 18, 2011, the International Court of Justice ordered Cambodia and Thailand to “immediately” withdraw troops from a 17.3- kilometre zone surrounding the temple and 4.6 square kilometres of disputed territory.

A senior government source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested yesterday that Cambodia might begin doing this exactly one year after the ICJ ruling, or in just over a week’s time.

“Cambodia will withdraw troops unilaterally,” the source said.

An anonymous source from the Thai military suggested Cambodian troops would “move away” from the temple but remain in the disputed area on ground below the mountain.

“It just takes the opportunity to create an impression it is complying with the International Court of Justice’s order. But it is not,” the source said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting that although Cambodia’s commitment to implement the ICJ ruling was genuine, no date had been set to do so.

“We have the [political] will to withdraw the troops from the PDZ, and we will announce in the future. I do not know the exact date yet, but not today,” he said.

It would be good if Cambodia and Thailand could “join hands” and announce they both withdraw troops together, he added.

Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry officials were also unaware of any Cambodian plan to unilaterally withdraw troops from the PDZ.

“However, as Prime Minister Yingluck will be coming to Cambodia on Friday 13 and she will be meeting with Samdech Hun Sen, so we will have to see what the two Prime Ministers will discuss,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdee said.

Yingluck Shinawatra and Hun Sen have showered mutual praise on one another but made little concrete progress on solving the border dispute since June 2011, when the Thai prime minister replaced Abhisit Vejjajiva, with whom the Cambodian premier openly stoushed.

But late last month, a Joint Working Group agreed both countries would withdraw troops 30 days after the border area had been de-mined and agreed to reconvene this month to get that process under way.

In February and April in 2011, bloody fighting erupted over 4.6 square kilometres of territory surrounding the temple, leaving dozens dead and leading Cambodia to request the ICJ reinterpret a 1962 decision on the area in their favour.

Hostilities over the temple had begun smouldering again in 2008 after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation awarded it to Cambodia.

To contact the reporters on this story: Cheang Sokha at [email protected]
Vong Sokheng at [email protected]