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Thailand, Cambodia Working to Resolve Border Dispute


Thailand and Cambodia have moved to end hostilities by agreeing to joint patrols in diplomatic efforts to end a border dispute that flared into conflict this week over an ancient temple complex. But as Ron Corben reports for VOA from Bangkok, Thai foreign affairs officials have raised alarm over the discovery of land mines in Thai territory.

Thai military officials said the joint patrols in the disputed border region were agreed to, following talks between commanders from both Thailand and Cambodia.

A Thai army spokesman said the aim of the agreement for joint patrols was to reduce chances of a misunderstanding that may lead to another clash.

The urgent talks and diplomatic efforts by Thailand followed a deadly clash a day earlier that left at least two Cambodian soldiers dead and several other troops on both sides wounded. Some Thai troops were also detained by Cambodian forces.

The dispute concerns land around the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple. In 1962, the International Court of Justice granted sovereignty over the temple to Cambodia, but a main access route to it lies in Thailand.

For decades, a lingering disagreement over the area was nearly dormant, but it revived in July when Thai nationalists protested Cambodia's successful request to have the temple declared a U.N. World Heritage site.

But Thai foreign ministry officials, in a briefing to foreign diplomats in Bangkok, accused Cambodia of laying Russian-made PMN-2 anti-personnel mines inside Thai territory.

In briefing notes, Thailand said unarmed Thai rangers had come under fire from Cambodian troops inside Thailand on October 3, with "injuries on both sides". The report said on October 6 two Thai paramilitary rangers were badly injured, later losing limbs after stepping on mines in an area previously cleared.

The director general of treaties and legal affairs, Virachn Plasai, said the uncovering of the newly laid mines marked a dangerous turn given both Thailand and Cambodia are state parties to the 1997 Ottawa convention banning land mines.

"What we find of grave concern is the discovery of these land mines newly planted. So we believe that is a grave threat for the international community as a whole because we believe that we have banned them, now they are back," said Virachn.

Talks on the dispute ended unsuccessfully on Monday, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen then declared that Thai troops had crossed the border.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said the ultimatum by the Camboidan Prime Minister stood in "stark contradiction" to the Cambodian Government's earlier position the issue should be settled bilaterally by peaceful means.

The deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Korn Chatikavanij, said the tensions put at risk the outcome of a leaders' summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - due in Bangkok in December.

"It is a situation we all want to avoid and we hope cool heads will prevail. We were as a country looking forward to chairing the ASEAN summit later on this year. I do not see how that is going to turn out. This is an unnecessary and unfortunate series of incidents," said Korn.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about the fighting and has called for both countries to peacefully resolve the dispute. In Washington, the U.S. State Department also urged both governments to avoid violence.

About 400 Thais left Cambodia after Bangkok urged citizens to return home if they did not have urgent business across the border. And hundreds of Cambodians were reported earlier to have left their homes near the temple.

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