Thailand pleased with outcome of temple talks in Cambodia
Thailand expressed satisfaction Tuesday with the outcome of marathon talks with its neighbour Cambodia over joint claims to an ancient Hindu temple on their border that had threatened to turn into a military conflict, reported dpa.
On Monday Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong spent 12 hours at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, trying to defuse an escalating border spat over joint claims to portions of the Preah Vihear temple perched on their common border.
Although the territorial dispute was not solved, the two sides agreed to continue to use "utmost restraint" to avoid an armed confrontation and to continue discussion on a bilateral basis.
"Both sides are convinced that the bilateral mechanism is still there for us to utilize," said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat.
Prior to the Siem Reap meeting, Cambodia had appealed to both the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations security council to intervene in the border row, which has drawn more than 2,000 troops to the border between Si Sa Khet and Preah Viehear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively.
The temple is situated about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.
Cambodia has seemingly "suspended" its push to bring the issue to the international arena, although this will only be confirmed when Phnom Penh informs the UN that it has dropped its petition, said foreign ministry sources.
The two sides also agreed, in principle, to "redeploy" their troops from the disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, although they will need to convince their respective militarys to do so.
"We carry pen and pencils," said Tharit. "We cannot speak for those who carry guns and weapons."
But Tharit claimed the foreign ministry had received assurances from the Thai military, which has a tendancy to act independently of the government in Thailand, that they would avoid a confrontation at all costs.
"They confirm that they said the first gunshot will not be from the Thai side, and if there is a first gunshot they will not immediately respond but investigate the source first," said the Thai foreign ministry spokesman, who attended the Siem Reap meeting.
According to Thai estimates, there are currently about 1,000 Thai troops in the neighbourhood of Preah Vihear, called Phra Viharn in Thai, while Cambodia has stationed about 1,500 troops across the border.
Cambodia claims the number of Thai troops in the area is closer to 2,000.
An estimated 400 Thai para-military troops have been stationed in the disputed area around the temple, who will be removed if the Siem Reap meeting's agreement is implemented.
Preah Vihear, an 11th-century Hindu temple built on a 525-metre- high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai- Cambodian border, has been the cause of a border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia for decades.
In 1962, the two countries agreed to settle joint claims to the temple at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Cambodia won, but the court stopped short of defining the border in the area.
Thailand claims that a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjoining the temple is still disputed.
The ancient spat got a fresh start earlier this month when UNESCO agreed to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. The inscription excluded the 4.6 square kilometres of disputed territory, and Thailand protested the listing.
The spat escalated from a diplomatic row to a potential military conflict in mid-July when three Thais were detained for entering the disputed temple territory.
Although the threesome were quickly released, troops were called in from both sides to protect their border.