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Trust-building lunch for defence ministers

Trust-building lunch for defence ministers

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Cambodian troops look out from a cliff near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple in 2010. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

In an effort to ease rising tensions along the border, Cambodian and Thai defence ministers held a “solidarity lunch” in front of the contested Preah Vihear temple site yesterday.

The bilateral military discussion came just days after Prime Minister Hun Sen unexpectedly warned that Thailand might use armed forces should the International Court of Justice in The Hague award Cambodia disputed territory surrounding the temple after hearings in April.

“It was a special bilateral military discussion, and we successfully cooled down fears of armed forces and tension, and we built trust with each other,” Cambodian Defense Minister General Tea Banh told reporters after the meeting.

Banh met with his Thai counterpart, Sukumpol Suwanatat, in front of the Preah Vihear temple for approximately an hour.

According to the Bangkok Post, the location of the meet didn’t sit well with the Thai Foreign Ministry, which argued that it could somehow put Thailand at a disadvantage in the legal dispute between the two countries.

After the meeting, however, Sukumpol said the location did not imply any implicit recognition that the area under dispute was part of Cambodia. Still, he said both sides vowed to respect the ICJ ruling later this year.

Banh also said the Thai defence minister insisted Cambodia prevent illegal loggers from crossing into Thailand.

“The two parties also agreed to cooperate on border issues in accordance with the existing MoU that was first signed in 2000,” Banh said.

Last year, hundreds of Cambodians were arrested, and forty-five were shot dead making the crossing to illegally log rosewood, according to recent figures from the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations Office.

The shootings represent a threefold increase since 2011.

Um Mara, Preah Vihear provincial governor, confirmed the meeting and appealed for calm in the area.

The meeting yesterday took place less than two months from ICJ hearings on Preah Vihear. While the ICJ awarded ownership of the temple to Cambodia in 1962, fatal cross-border clashes in recent years motivated Cambodia to seek clarification from the court on a 4.6-kilometre patch of disputed territory surrounding the ruin.

Hearings begin April 15.

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