A weekend of troop “redeployments” from the pagoda near Preah Vihear temple has considerably eased the weeks-long military standoff ahead of today’s foreign ministers meeting in Thailand, officials said Sunday.
Troops hunkered down at Preah Vihear temple began to withdraw from the disputed border area Friday evening, Defense Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat said Sunday.
By Saturday evening, only 10 Thai and 10 Cambodian troops remained stationed inside the pagoda, with an additional 20 troops from each side stationed around it, said Neang Phat, who led two meetings last week between Thai and Cambodian military officials to negotiate the “redeployment.”
Troop levels at Preah Vihear were previously estimated at 450 Thais and 1,000 Cambodians.
Neang Phat said he will join Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo, Border Commission chairman Var Kimhong and RCAF Region 4 Commander Chea Morn for Tuesday’s peace talks in Thailand. The five officials depart this morning for Thailand’s beach town of Hua Hin to meet with Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sin Bunthoeun.
RCAF Major General Srey Dek, chief of the Preah Vihear operation, confirmed that all but 60 troops have left the 4.6-square-km overlapping claims area around Preah Vihear temple.
All other Thai troops redeployed to the Thai side of the entrance gate to Preah Vihear temple, Srey Dek said, and Cambodian troops also withdrew to outside the area.
“The Thais have withdrawn their troops to the road, near the market on the Thai side,” Srey Dek said Sunday by telephone from Preah Vihear temple.
However, he said RCAF Region 4 troops will remain camped close by and whether they return to their home provinces depends on the progress of Tuesday’s talks, which follow an initial meeting of the foreign ministers on July 28 in Siem Reap.
Preah Vihear National Authority Secretary-General Hang Soth said the situation is much calmer now, and troops on Saturday filled in the trenches they’d dug during the height of the standoff.
A Thai Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the redeployment of most troops from the disputed area was an important display of progress.
“For the Thai side, this shows sincerity to solve the problem and create an atmosphere conducive to resolving the problem peacefully and bilaterally,” the official said Sunday by telephone from Bangkok.
“I think I finally see a way forward, for the two neighbors to sit down and talk. I can’t say we don’t still have a lot to do and discuss along the border, but I do hope we can finally work together to resolve the problem,” the official said.
Cambodian Border Commission chairman Var Kimhong said Tuesday’s talks will begin where they ended July 28: on the note of recommending a mutual troop “redeployment” away from the Preah Vihear pagoda.
In addition, Var Kimhong said officials will discuss the more recent standoff at the Ta Moan temple complex on the border of Oddar Meanchey province and possibly request that Thailand remove a fence they erected around Ta Moan Touch, one of two temples claimed by Cambodia in the three-temple complex.
“We don’t like to have the fence because this temple belongs to us. I don’t know how the Thais could confuse this one,” Var Kimhong said by telephone Sunday.
RCAF Region 4 Deputy Commander Pov Heng said the situation at Ta Moan is stable. The Thai military on Thursday began allowing Cambodian troops and civilians to visit the temples during the daytime, he said, but troops must be unarmed and civilians cannot take photos.