Monday, 31 August 2009

Cambodia reduces troops, citing improved security

By SOPHENG CHEANG,Associated Press Writer
Monday, August 31

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia has reduced by half the number of troops patrolling a disputed 11th century temple along the Thai border, citing improved security and the need for soldiers to help farmers plant rice, a defense ministry spokesman said Monday.

Long-standing tensions over temple ownership reached a fever pitch in July 2008 when UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear named a World Heritage Site. Thailand protested the move, claiming that it undermined its claim to a small amount of adjacent land.

Since then, there have been several gunbattles between Thai and Cambodian troops in the area and a number of soldiers from both sides have been killed or wounded. Both sides have refused to back away from their positions until now, with each saying it has the rightful claim to the land.

Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat said the troop pullout began Wednesday and was completed Sunday. Along with soldiers, the army has withdrawn tanks and other heavy equipment from the site around the temple.

"We have pulled out 50 percent of our forces from the disputed border near Thailand because we thought that the situation there was getting better from day to day," Chhum Socheat said, refusing to provide specific troop numbers because of security concerns.

"We also want to tell the Thai side that Cambodia wants to solve the border problem by peaceful means and wants the border be a peaceful place," he added.

There was no immediate comment from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Cambodia and Thailand share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps.

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