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Thailand, Cambodia Open Talks on Border Dispute

The foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia are meeting this week to end a border dispute over an ancient temple. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the talks follow an agreement reached last week to pull back troops on both sides of the border.

The talks this week are the next step in reducing cross-border tensions sparked by a dispute over territory surrounding an 11th century Khmer temple that lies just inside Cambodia.

The meeting between the Thai Foreign Minister, Tej Bunnag and Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, follows last week's agreement by both countries to withdraw more than one thousand troops from around the border.

Nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border rose after Cambodia unilaterally sought United Nations World Heritage status for the Preah Vihar temple. Thailand had previously sought a joint application that would also include nearby land under Thai control.

Several months ago, however, the Thai government agreed to allow Cambodia to apply on its own. The deal set off a political fight in Bangkok that resulted in the resignation of Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama. In turn, Cambodians bristled at what they saw as Thai backsliding on an agreement and claims on their territory.

As tensions rose, both countries sent troops to the area, leading to fears of armed conflict.

Carl Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asia politics at the Australian National University, says the dispute is tied to domestic politics.

"This current situation that arose led to a foreign minister to resign - a sweeping victory for [Cambodian Prime Minister] Hun Sen and his party in Cambodia - so it had domestic dimensions where kicking a nationalist ball is part of the political game," said Thayer.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice granted sovereignty over the temple to Cambodia, although a key access point to the area is in Thailand.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Nor Namhong said before leaving for the meeting in Thailand that he expects the talks to resolve the problem.

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and the Thai Army chief visited the border region Monday, to show that the dispute has been set aside.