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Progress in Thai-Cambodia talks

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Sompong Amornviwat (l) shakes hands with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at a hotel in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on Thursday
The mood was relaxed and optimistic, but many obstacles remain

Thailand and Cambodia have pledged to begin placing markers along their common border and withdraw troops from around a disputed temple.

The move came in a meeting of foreign ministers aimed at preventing further clashes after four soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire last month.

The two countries have just finished three days of talks on the dispute.

But they say obstacles remain to settling sovereignty of the land around the temple, which lies inside Cambodia.

'99% successful'

After days of talks the language from both foreign ministers was so relaxed and conciliatory you would hardly have known their soldiers were shooting at each other less than a month ago.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong described the talks as a "big practical step forward", and his Thai counterpart Sompong Amornwiwat said they had achieved "99%" of what they had hoped.

TEMPLE DISPUTE TIMELINE
Cambodian Buddhist monks walk in line up during a prayer ceremony for peace at Preah Vihear temple, August 2008
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August 2008: Troops withdrawn after high-level talks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
November 2008: Foreign ministers meet for talks to resolve the dispute, having vowed to resolve it peacefully

In reality, though, all they agreed was to start the difficult task of hammering out a deal on the border, and to scale down the armed stand-off around the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Troops will be withdrawn early next year, and in the meantime instructed to avoid further armed clashes.

And the two countries will begin marking out the border, which runs for nearly 800km (500 miles), much of it heavily mined.

They say they will make the stretch next to the temple their first priority - but this will certainly prove the hardest bit of border to mark, as both countries claim a 5-sq-km (1.9-sq-mile) patch of land around the temple, and each is working from different maps.

With nationalist feelings still running high over the temple, which in July was listed by Cambodia as a World Heritage Site, neither government is likely to back down over the claim.

Thailand's room for manoeuvre is even narrower, as every agreement it makes with Cambodia must now be approved by parliament.



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