Sunday, 17 May 2009

Thais to seek reduction in soldiers at Preah Vihear

Thailand will propose a further cut in troop numbers in the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple in talks starting today with Cambodian military leaders.

Second Army chief Wibulsak Neepal said the move was needed to reduce the risk of clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in the 4.6 sq km area claimed by the two countries.

"The reduction should be done step by step, starting at Wat Kaew Khiri Sikha Sawara before expanding to other areas in the overlapping zone," Lt Gen Wibulsak said.

Thailand will ask Cambodia to stop the building of a road to the 11th century temple as it passes through land where sovereignty has not been settled.

An army source said Thailand had about 2,000 soldiers in the disputed area and Cambodia had up to 4,000 troops. Thailand claims the area is part of Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and Cambodia insists it belongs to Preah Vihear province.

The issue will be discussed at the two-day General Border Committee (GBC) meeting in Siem Reap. The Thai side is led by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh leads the Cambodian delegation. All Thai armed forces leaders and the supreme commander will accompany Gen Prawit to the meeting.

Thailand will seek cooperation from Cambodia in keeping an eye out for convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra after reports he had been staying in Koh Kong and Phnom Penh.

Thai intelligence reports claim Thaksin flew in his private jet to Phnom Penh and stayed at the home of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The former premier also led Arab businessmen to explore business opportunities in Koh Kong.

The GBC meeting was earlier postponed due to border clashes and the need for parliament's approval on the framework for the military leaders to hold discussions with their Cambodian counterparts.

The MPs and senators yesterday approved the framework for negotiations with 295 parliament members supporting it and two opposing.

A parliamentary source said the framework covered three main areas: border demarcation, security cooperation along the border with Cambodia and other collaboration such as tourism, trade and health.

The source said the meeting was concerned about the delay in settling the disputed area and overlapping waters in the Gulf of Thailand because they were linked to political problems in Thailand.
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