Thai, Cambodian troops withdraw from disputed area

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SI SA KET, June 18 – Thai Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said on Wednesday he hoped that the situation would improve after Thailand and Cambodia withdrew their troops from a disputed border area to comply with a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

The minister expressed optimism at the handover ceremony in Thailand’s northeastern province of Si Sa Ket as Thai border police officers replaced soldiers in the disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple along the Thai-Cambodian border.

“The police officers on duty must refrain from any action which will tarnish the country’s image. Be patient and refrain from any provocative acts for the sake of national interest,” he said.

The minister earlier brushed aside concerns that Thailand will be at a disadvantage following the troop pullout, but stated the move was to comply with the ICJ’s ruling.

The court last July ordered both Thailand and Cambodia to immediately withdraw their military forces from the PDZ and have no military presence in the zone. It urged both countries to work with ASEAN to reach an agreement allowing the regional bloc’s observers to enter the disputed zone.

Today marks the first anniversary of the ICJ provisional measures.

The minister however declined to specify the number of Thai soldiers being replaced by police officers, saying the pullout was in accordance with Cambodia’s move.

Cambodia reportedly withdrew 486 military personnel from the Provisional Demilitarized Zone (PDZ) surrounding Preah Vihear.

Meanwhile, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa asserted that Cambodia must remove its settlements and relocate their people from the 4.6 sq km contested area.

He added that more talks are needed as the trespassers must withdraw from the area, and that Thailand had protested against the encroachment many times.

Thai government deputy spokesperson Anusorn Eiamsa-ard on Wednesday reaffirmed the troop pullout was in compliance with the ICJ order and that Indonesian observers from ASEAN regional bloc will enter the disputed area soon.

Mr Anusorn said Thailand’s move is a part of its preparations for ASEAN Economic Community which will take effect in 2015 while all security concerned agencies, including the army, haveguaranteed that Thailand did not lose anything from the move.

“The current government has good relations with Cambodia, Mr Anusorn stated. “This can be seen from the recent trips to Cambodia of Thai prime minister and foreign minister as both had  discussions to strengthen ties.”

Regarding a Thai activist and his aide — Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattananpaiboon — now detained in a Cambodian jail for espionage and illegal entry since 2011, Mr Anusorn said the government has received a good sign indicating that both could be released soon.