Saturday, July 23, 2011

Troops sit down for chin wag, even as leaders won't

Thailand and Cambodia's leaders may not be talking about their border problems, but on the ground, troops from both sides are already forging bonds.
Thai and Cambodian soldiers eat together at Ta Kwai temple in Surin’sPhanomDong Rak district, about 140kmfrom thePreah Vihear temple. The two sides engaged in deadly border clashes in April. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
Thai soldiers have invited their Cambodian counterparts to spend time with them at temples they have occupied on their side of the border.
Col Mang Mao, the commander of Cambodia's 423th Infantry Brigade is one of two Cambodian soldiers sent to spend 24 hours with two Thai soldiers at the Ta Kwai temple in Ban Ta Miang of Surin's Phanom Dong Rak district.
This is a measure to ensure Thai and Cambodian troops stationed in the disputed area have a chance to talk first to prevent any conflicts breaking out.
Col Mang Mao said border tension in Surin has eased since the July 3 election in Thailand.
"Cambodian soldiers hope that after Thailand has a new government, negotiations will resume. Then soldiers from both sides can stop fighting each other.
"In the past, in April in particular, the clashes were very violent. Soldiers of both countries suffered losses," he said.
Col Nat See-in, the commander of the Thai 26th Ranger Division, said two Thai soldiers and two Cambodian soldiers would be stationed at the Ta Kwai temple together around the clock.
Thai troops have occupied the nearby Ta Muan temple, but have allowed five unarmed Cambodian soldiers who are part of the Cambodian military's coordination team to spend six hours a day with the troops there as a trust-building measure.
These steps, intended to ease tension and prevent unnecessary armed confrontation between the two countries' soldiers, are in line with the policy of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian military leaders, said Col Mang Mao.
"They wanted Cambodian unit chiefs at the border to solve any disagreements through negotiations, not the use of force or shooting as in the past. They don't want the dispute to escalate."
Col Nat said the border tension lately has eased markedly.
"But we must not be reckless. We must be disciplined and stringently abide by the agreements between troops of the two countries," he said.
Several battalions of troops from both sides are still camped around Ta Muan temple and trouble could break out.
Capt Sen Nee of the Cambodian army who has been stationed at the Ta Muan temple said Cambodian soldiers were happy that Pheu Thai Party won the general election. They believed Pheu Thai would focus on holding truce talks with Cambodia rather than waging war.

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