Friday, October 24, 2008

Golf Course Diplomacy-Thai Cambodian border fight


Diplomacy 'swings' into action

SIEM REAP / Cambodia's defence minister teed off with Thai military officers in a spot of golf diplomacy yesterday ahead of talks aimed at resolving the territorial dispute around the Preah Vihear temple.

A meeting of mid-level officials in Cambodia's northwest tourist hub of Siem Reap was meant to pave the way for talks today between senior commanders on tensions that erupted into deadly clashes last week.

While their juniors met, Cambodian defence minister Tea Banh arrived a day early for a round of golf with the Thai military officers.

''The discussion today has resolved a lot of problems,'' Tea Banh said.

''The [Friday] meeting will clearly ease the situation more because we will discuss ways to make it better.''

Officials would not give specific results of the day's talks to defuse the border dispute near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which erupted in a firefight a week ago that left one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers dead.

But General Neang Phat, secretary of state at Cambodia's defence ministry, described the atmosphere among senior officials on the golf course as ''happy''.

He said he thought commanders would reach an agreement to reduce the number of soldiers deployed in disputed territory.

''We will also talk about how to avoid military confrontation and to continue re-deploying the troops,'' he said.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen are scheduled to meet today in Beijing on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe summit meeting.

The Beijing meeting might be a good opportunity to restore confidence after the country was hit by domestic political turmoil, he said, adding he would like to tell the countries that even though Thailand is facing problems, it could move ahead.

Mr Somchai said yesterday the bilateral talks would be the best way to end the border disputes between the two countries.

He said Cambodia is a good neighbour and that both nations wanted to live together peacefully.

Mr Somchai accepted that sometimes problems could not be avoided but they should be resolved in bilateral contacts without the need for international input, as no other country could expect to be as knowledgeable about the details.

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