Thailand, Cambodia in talks over border

5th April 2009, 18:35 WST
Cambodian and Thai officials held urgent talks on Sunday to prevent fresh fighting on their border after months of tensions over disputed land near an ancient temple flared up into deadly gunbattles.

A third Thai soldier died in hospital following Friday’s clashes, which plunged relations between the neighbours to a new low just days before a regional summit that was supposed to focus on the global economic slowdown.

Military officials from both sides met over lunch in disputed territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on Sunday, while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was set to meet Thai officials later in the capital Phnom Penh.

“We held the meeting in order to make the situation return to normal and to make sure there’s no more gunfire. We have agreed to stay on our sides of the border,” Cambodian Major General Srey Doek said after the lunchtime talks.

Troops could be seen chatting and some even stowed away their weapons but said they remained ready to fight after their clash, the biggest burst of violence over the territory since four people died there in October.

Decades of tensions over ownership of the site started to boil over after Cambodia successfully applied for United Nations world heritage status for the ruins in July.

Major General Kanok Netrak Thavesanak, the Thai officer who attended the talks near Preah Vihear, said officials from his country would meet later with Hun Sen.

Cambodian cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan said the meeting would focus on the recent violence. There was no immediate reaction on the talks from the military or foreign ministry in Bangkok.

“A Thai official is going to meet with the Cambodian prime minister today and they will talk about the clashes that happened two days earlier,” Phay Siphan told AFP.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva meanwhile said the issue would come up when he meets with Hun Sen at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its regional partners in Thailand next week.

“This will be raised in next week’s meeting to find a solution to the problem,” Abhisit said in his weekly television broadcast.

“It is sad for those who lost their lives. We will speed up the return of the situation to normal and resume the talking process as soon as possible,” Abhisit added.

Pre-arranged talks on the border situation, the latest in a series that have been held over the past six months, are also set to go ahead as planned on Monday and Tuesday in Phnom Penh.

The Thai and Cambodian leaders sought to play down the latest crisis on Saturday, saying that it was the result of a misunderstanding and that the two countries were not at war.

But while tensions had noticeably eased at the border on Sunday, Cambodian troops said they remained alert against alleged Thai incursions.

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