ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand : Senior Thai and Cambodian defence officials emerged from talks Monday with no resolution to a military standoff near an ancient temple which has seen troops mass on the border.
After nearly eight hours of closed-door meetings in an eastern Thai town, the two sides agreed only that force must not be used to resolve the nearly week-long crisis over disputed land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.
“We both have legal problems, which we have informed our superiors to discuss,” said Thai Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit.
“We will both bring back the problems to our governments. The meeting today was to find a proper solution to the Preah Vihear temple problems, but we both agreed to tell our soldiers stationed on the border not to use force.”
He said the troops would remain on the border but their numbers would not be increased, and added that negotiations would continue at an unspecified time.
More than 500 Thai and 1,000 Cambodian troops are stationed around a small Buddhist pagoda in disputed land on a mountain slope leading to Preah Vihear, which is owned by Cambodia.
Both sides have both shown willingness to peacefully defuse the dispute, which saw weapons briefly drawn last week, but neither has shown any sign of backing down on their claims to the land near the Hindu temple ruins.
Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said the two sides “worked as hard as we can” during the negotiations in Aranyaprathet district, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of the disputed territory.
“In the past several days the atmosphere is heating (up) and the talks today create understanding, but we are stuck with legal problems,” he told reporters.
“The concrete work has to wait. But we both agree to avoid confrontation and violence.”
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but 4.6 square kilometres (1.8 square miles) of land surrounding the ruins remains in dispute.
In a letter obtained Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told his Thai counterpart Samak Sundaravej that a map used by the ICJ shows the temple “is legally located approximately seven hundred metres inside Cambodian territory”.
Cambodia maintains that Thai troops are trespassing on its territory, and has sent a letter to the United Nations to draw attention to what it says is an illegal incursion.
Thailand insists it owns the land around the temple.
Recent tensions between the neighbours began with Cambodia’s moves to have Preah Vihear listed as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
The UN cultural body UNESCO earlier this month finally granted heritage status to the temple perched on a jungle mountaintop, sparking an outcry from nationalist groups in Thailand who are battling Samak’s government.
The situation boiled over after three Thai protesters were arrested on Tuesday for jumping a fence to reach the temple. Troops headed to the border, and on Thursday witnesses said they had pointed their guns at each other.
Cambodia is preparing for general elections on July 27, and Hun Sen has portrayed the UN recognition of the ruins as a national triumph, organising huge public celebrations.
Thailand remains gripped by anti-government protests, with its cabinet threatened by impeachment proceedings. Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign over the furore surrounding the temple.
The territorial dispute has long dogged relations between the two countries.
Ties were last strained in 2003 when rioters burned and looted Thailand’s embassy and several Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh after a dispute over Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple.