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Thai Parliament Opens Way for Border Talks

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday welcomed the approval of border discussions in Thailand’s parliament, providing the border committees of the neighbors a foundation for resolving a longstanding border dispute.

The two sides are expected to discuss border demarcation near the temple of Preah Vihear, which has been at the center of a military standoff for more than a year. The approval follows the withdrawal of some troops by both sides in recent weeks.

In a closed-door session between the Thai upper and lower Houses, lawmakers voted 306-6 to engender talks, the Nation newspaper reported. Earlier attempts to negotiate a border settlement have been scuttled by a Thai government in chaos, as partisan sides protested, and, in one case, ousted, the government.

“Thai parliament approved the negotiation framework to allow the Thai government to discuss all problems with its neighbors, particularly the border issue with Cambodia,” said Koy Kong, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. “In the past, Cambodia has waited for approval from Thai parliament allowing the Thai border commission the right to continue discussions with the Cambodian side.”

The new vote would allow discussions “as soon as possible,” he said. “The Cambodian side needs to resolve the border dispute sooner and sooner.”

Var Kimhong, head of Cambodia’s border committee, said the two countries have so far approved more than 30 of 73 sites where markers need to be placed along 805 kilometers of frontier.

The General Border Committee, led by defense ministers of both nations, and the Joint Border Commission, led by the foreign ministers, met in late July, while the top commanders of respective militaries met in August—all in talks aimed at diffusing tension along the border, which saw at one time a build-up of thousands of troops and led to to several skirmishes and at least seven dead soldiers.

Over the past year, those skirmishes threatened to spill over into larger battle, as soldiers fired machine guns, rockets and mortars at each other, while heavy infantry and artillery were stationed nearby. A Cambodian market was destroyed, Preah Vihear temple damaged and hundreds of residents near the 11th-Century temple forced to evacuate their homes.

The standoff was sparked by the July 2008 listing of Preah Vihear temple as a Unesco World Heritage site, subsequent protests in Thailand and on the border and the occupation of disputed land near the temple by troops from both sides.