PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Anti-government protests in Bangkok have caused the Thai military to postpone talks to discuss withdrawing troops from a disputed border area near an ancient temple, a Cambodian general said Thursday.
Twenty soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand remain stationed at a small pagoda on a patch of disputed land near Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple, while 40 from both sides remain nearby.
Up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops pulled back from the area in mid-August, suggesting that an end to the sometimes tense six-week military stand-off could be near.
But Cambodian and Thai military officials scheduled to meet Friday to discuss a further pullback of troops postponed their talks at the request of Thai officials, Cambodian General Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the defence ministry, told AFP Thursday.
The request was made Wednesday afternoon, just hours after a 30-member Thai delegation arrived in Siem Reap to prepare for the talks, he said.
“They requested the meeting be postponed and they returned to Thailand,” General Neang Phat said.
“They did not give any reasons. But we can know that it is because of their internal problems,” he added.
A Thai foreign ministry official later confirmed the postponement but said both sides forced the delay.
“The meeting was postponed because both sides are not yet ready due to their internal processes,” he said.
“A new meeting date will be rescheduled as soon as possible and the meeting will still be held in Cambodia as agreed,” he said.
Thousands of Thai protesters seized a television station and occupied the the main government compound in Bangkok this week in an attempt to force the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
Cambodian General Neang Phat said it was not clear when Thai and Cambodian military officials would resume the meeting to discuss troop withdrawals.
After talks last week between Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, the two sides said a border committee would meet in October to step up efforts to draw the boundary around the temple.
Cambodia had asked the UN Security Council to consider the standoff that erupted in July, but Hor Namhong said that request would likely be withdrawn.
Relations between the neighbours flared up last month after Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the ancient Khmer temple.
On July 15, Cambodia arrested three Thai protesters for illegally crossing the border to try to reach the temple, sparking the deployment of troops from both sides on the tiny patch of disputed land near Preah Vihear.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.