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Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 17:06 UK

Small step in Thai-Cambodia talks

A Thai soldier looks out as he sits with others in the back of an army truck near the Cambodia border
The two sides have had troops and equipment in the area since July

Generals from Thailand and Cambodia have been holding talks in an attempt to resolve a border dispute that led to a fatal exchange of fire on Wednesday.

Reports say both sides have agreed to joint border patrols as a way to ease the tensions.

But there are no reports of further progress and Thailand has also implied that Cambodian soldiers have been planting mines in the disputed area.

At least two Cambodian troops died in the clash near the Preah Vihear temple.

Two Cambodian soldiers were injured, along with seven Thai troops, in the skirmish, which lasted less than an hour.

map of disputed area


Both countries claim the area around the temple, and despite several rounds of talks a settlement remains elusive.

The issue of ownership is partly a nationalist one, but the area is also prized because the temple became a Unesco World Heritage site in June and the site could one day generate lucrative tourist revenues.

The UN, US, EU and China have all called for restraint, and Indonesia is said to have offered to mediate in the border talks.

Small step

"We will introduce the joint patrol to avoid this kind of incident happening again," Lieutenant General Wiboonsak Neeparn, Thailand's north-eastern army commander, was quoted as saying after the five-hour meeting.

But he also suggested "not much" progress had been made, pointing out "troops on both sides will stay where they are", a report said.

Cambodian commander Maj Gen Srey Doek said negotiations would continue.

No progress has been reported on issues such as reducing troops in the zone or on the core issue of settling the border.

Thailand has also implicitly accused Cambodia of planting further mines in the already heavily mined area, claiming a number of new Russian-made mines have been found buried in the ground and that two Thai soldiers had their legs blown off earlier this month.

Meanwhile, there is confusion over the fate of 13 Thai soldiers Cambodia claimed it captured during Wednesday's confrontation.

Cambodia says it has returned the men's weapons and released them. Thailand however continues to deny any of its soldiers were ever held.

Nationalist passions

Senior government figures on both sides have called for negotiations to continue, and played down Wednesday's confrontation.

Cambodian villagers flee Anlong Veng, in Cambodia near the border with Thailand Cambodia, following Wednesday's clash
Thousands of Cambodians have fled the area

But the incident prompted thousands of Cambodians to flee their homes, and some reports say Cambodian military reinforcements are still being dispatched to the disputed zone.

Meanwhile the issue continues to stoke fervent nationalist passions. In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, security guard Bun Roeun told Reuters news agency he was angry.

"If the Thais continue their attempt to cross our border, I am ready to join the army to fight back," he said.

According to the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, the Thai government is nervous about committing itself to any deal over the border, for fear of stirring up more nationalist anger, or of violating the constitution, which it was judged to have done when it initially supported Cambodia's bid to get World Heritage status for the temple.

But Cambodia needs a deal soon if it is to present its management plan for the site by the World Heritage Committee's deadline of February next year.

The temple sits on top of a cliff, and access from the Cambodian side will still be impractical for tourists unless a new route can be built through the disputed territory, our correspondent says.

'Death zone'

The military stand-off began in July when Cambodian troops detained three Thai protesters who had entered the site illegally.

TEMPLE DISPUTE TIMELINE
1970s-1990s: Khmer Rouge guerrillas occupy site
2001-2002: Thai troops block access over water row
July 2008: Unesco lists temple as a World Heritage Site
July 2008: Thai FM quits after court rules he violated constitution for backing Cambodia's Unesco bid
July 2008: Both sides move troops to temple area
August 2008: Troops withdrawn after high-level talks
October 2008: Fighting erupts around temple area

More than 1,000 soldiers from both countries moved into the area, digging trenches into the rough terrain around the temple.

Both sides agreed in August to withdraw their personnel, but last week Cambodia claimed that Thai troops had returned, and Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to turn the area into a "death zone" if they did not withdraw.

The dispute centres on 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

An international court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but land surrounding it remains the subject of rival territorial claims.

Disputes between the two countries date back centuries, when the Thai and Khmer monarchs fought each other for territory and power.


SEE ALSO
Gunfight on Thai-Cambodia border
15 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Troops 'to leave border temple'
14 Aug 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Temple row 'to ease after polls'
23 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Troop build-up at hill-top temple
17 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Tranquil temple at centre of a storm
22 May 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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