>Cambodia marks 55th anniversary of independence

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A parade passes in front of the royal palace during the Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh November 9, 2008. Cambodia celebrates its 55th anniversary of independence from France on November 9.

REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to strengthen Cambodia’s armed forces Sunday as he joined the country’s king in celebrating the 55th anniversary of independence from France.

The prime minister’s statement came amid a tense standoff between Cambodian and Thai troops near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, which last month erupted into a clash that raised concerns of a border war.

Speaking at an independence day parade, Hun Sen made no mention of the border conflict but vowed to push “ahead with reform of the armed forces to ensure highly effective defense” of Cambodian territory.

Among those marching in Sunday’s celebration parade were Cambodian mine clearers with their mine-sniffing dogs, reflecting continued efforts to clear rural areas of land mines after three decades of civil war, which ended 10 years ago.

Lawmakers are expected to approve a $2 billion budget for 2009 later this month, of which about $500 million will be allocated to the military. Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker, said the new military expenditure will be almost double that of 2008.

The two countries both claim 1.8 square miles (4.6 square kilometers) of land near the temple, which the World Court awarded to Cambodia in 1962.

Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers are scheduled to hold new talks Nov. 12 in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap.

King Norodom Sihamoni said he was confident that the “great national solidarity” of Cambodians would ward off “aggression on our priceless territorial integrity.”

Sihamoni, who is a constitutional monarch, made no direct reference to the border conflict with Thailand.

Cambodia and Thailand share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, much of which has never been clearly demarcated because the countries refer to different maps.

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