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Young Men Flocking to Join Local Militias

Hundreds of young men have volunteered to join local commune militias in Oddar Meanchey province since the beginning of a border conflict with Thailand in July, officials said Thursday.

Between 500 to 1,000 young men have joined militias in all five of the province's districts, to bolster the nation's defenses in case of attack from Thailand as an ongoing border standoff continues, said Oddar Meanchey Governor Pich Sokhen.

Tensions between the two nations increased last week, following armed clashes at three sites near Preah Vihear temple.

The numbers of recruits had risen surprisingly high in recent weeks, Pich Sokhen said, but was due to months of tension between Cambodians and Thais on the border and some attacks of Cambodians.

"The recruitment of the militia right now we keep only for security in communes," he said. "But if the border becomes more tense, and they need the forces, we will send them directly to join the army."

Militia members can be recruited under a Ministry of Defense law and sent forward if trouble arises, Pich Sokhen said. None of the militiamen are currently armed with guns, he said, but many of them have knives, axes and clubs.

Officials in the border provinces of Preah Vihear, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin and Koh Kong reported no increase in militia recruitment Thursday.

The militia policy of the armed forces sets a maximum of 15 young militiamen, aged 18 to 30, per village, according Ung Narin, a forestry administration official in the Oddar Meanchey's Banteay Ampil district, who attended a commune meeting Wednesday where local leaders discussed recruitment.

Meanwhile, military commanders from Thailand and Cambodia met in Siem Reap Thursday in an effort to diffuse a new round of tensions in a border conflict.

Thursday's meetings took place between low-level secretariats, who discussed an agenda for a broader meeting between commanders on Friday, when the prime ministers of both countries are also expected to meet in Beijing.