Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cambodia halves troop numbers at border temple: ministry


PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia has halved the number of troops around an ancient border temple that has been the scene of bloody clashes with Thailand, the defence ministry said Sunday.

There have been several skirmishes between the two countries on the disputed frontier around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia since the ruins were granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

"We have pulled out 50 percent of the troops from Preah Vihear temple," said Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence.

"This shows that the situation at the border is really getting better, and that both countries have a mutual understanding of peace," he added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week said Thailand had just 30 soldiers on the border, meaning that Cambodia could stand some troops down and send them back to their provincial bases.

"We still have enough troops remaining to protect our territory," said General Chea Dara, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

He said if Thailand "shows a softer manner" they could cut the numbers further. "However, if anything happened, our troop mobility would be very swift," he told AFP.

Thailand in June reignited the row over the temple when it asked world heritage body UNESCO to reconsider its decision to formally list the temple in Cambodia.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the land around the Preah Vihear temple for decades.

Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, the most accessible entrance to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings is in northeastern Thailand.

The last gunbattle in the temple area in April left three people dead while clashes there in 2008 killed another four people.

The border between the two countries has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia. AFP

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