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Negotiations Planned in Cambodia-Thailand Dispute

The recent border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand near the ancient Preah Vihear temple has escalated into military clashes that resulted in bloodshed on both sides. As Reasey Poch of VOA's Khmer service reports from George Washington University, Asian experts are urging bilateral talks to end the conflict.

The dispute heated up earlier this year when the World Heritage Fund designated the 900-year-old Cambodian Preah Vihear temple a U.N. World Heritage site.

The decision re-ignited a long-standing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. Many Thais were angry that Cambodia had unilaterally listed the temple, which they also consider sacred.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been resolved.

Cambodia uses a French-colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with U.S. technical assistance.

On October 15, troops on both sides were involved in a clash that resulted in the death of three soldiers and several casualties on both sides. The temple was also damaged in the fighting.

In a meeting last week on the sideline of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, Cambodian and Thai leaders agreed to avoid further border clashes near Preah Vihear temple.

Professor Shawn McHale, a Southeast Asian historian at George Washington University in Washington D.C. blamed both Cambodia and Thailand for the violence.

He said, "On both sides, the Cambodian and Thai sides, there are individuals who are trying to whip up a sense of hysteria over this particular issue. And the problem is they are the ones who are pushing the conflicts. They need to calm down."

Professor Brigit Welch teaches a class on conflicts in Southeast Asia at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. She said conflicts are not about who is right and who is wrong. The key to end the conflict, she said, is bilateral talks.

Welch added, "Right now, in my view both sides are wrong because they have let the situation escalate into the loss of lives. And we have not seen effective bilateral negotiations sitting down solving this problem, which can be solved effectively if people have the political will to do so."

Cambodia accuses Thailand of encroaching into its territory along the border. Thailand has said its troops are inside its territory and that it did not do anything wrong.

The Thai parliament has approved a framework for negotiations with Cambodia planned to begin November 10. Cambodia has welcomed the action of the Thai parliament.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the two sides can solve their border issues without outsiders.

Professor Michael Yahuda who teaches Asian studies at the George Washington University said a third party could help solve the problem. "Indonesia could play such a role, but I think it would require both sides to agree on who the third party would be. Once they agree, that would be half the battle because that would show that they really want to settle it.'

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations, and the United States have all urged Cambodia and Thailand to try to resolve their dispute peacefully.