Observer issue to muddy meeting on border


Bangkok Post

A conflict could be looming if Cambodia presses ahead with calls to deploy observers in the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple during the Joint Working Group meeting.

The second round of JWG talks starts today in Phnom Penh to follow up on implementation of provisional measures imposed by the International Court of Justice. The court has ordered deployment of observers and withdrawal of troops in the 17.3 sq km demilitarised zone.

A Royal Thai Armed Forces source said both sides might end up at loggerheads if the Cambodian delegation brings up the issue.

There are signs that Phnom Penh may push for the deployment of observers and withdrawal of troops.

When Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat attended a regional defence meeting in Cambodia last month, he was reportedly urged to proceed with the JWG meeting. The meeting was initially scheduled for June 11-13 but Thailand asked to postpone it to June 26-28.

The source said Thailand would try to avoid the issue of deployment of observers and troop pull-out.

Troop pull-outs were not on the agenda when the first JWG meeting took place in Bangkok in early April. It concluded with both countries agreeing to carry out landmine clearing operations.

"We will avoid the issue because it was agreed at the last meeting that a third country shouldn't be brought in," said the source.

The Thai delegation will be led by Royal Thai Armed Forces' chief of staff Worapong Sa-nganet while the Cambodian side is led by deputy defence minister Neang Phat.

A source in the army said the Suranaree Task Force would reduce the number of troops deployed near the disputed border area around the Preah Vihear temple due to budget constraints.

About 2,000 troops are deployed near the disputed area. They were sent in after border skirmishes erupted more than two years ago.

An estimated monthly budget of 30 million baht was needed to keep the operation going.

The source insisted the reduction of soldiers is not a troop pull-out.

In another development, Navy Commander Adm Surasak Rounroengrom yesterday left for an official visit to Cambodia. The visit is aimed at strengthening military ties.
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