Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thailand and Cambodia resume ministerial talks

BANGKOK — Foreign ministers from Cambodia and Thailand resumed joint policy talks for the first time in three years Wednesday after months of fractious relations over a border temple dispute.

Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya met at a Bangkok hotel to discuss the spat and deeper economic ties.

Violent clashes near the ancient 11th century Preah Vihear have left seven soldiers dead since July 2008 when the temple was granted UN World Heritage status.

High level delegations have met at various times over the past year in an attempt to heal rifts, but Wednesday's meeting is the first time since 2006 that ministers have convened their joint policy commission.

The body had previously met once a year to oversee relations between the two countries.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the Khmer ruins for decades. Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, its most accessible entrance is in northeastern Thailand.

Tensions have also arisen over disputed waters where both countries have granted oil and gas exploration rights to private companies.

After Wednesday's meeting both foreign ministers said the talks signified progress in relations.

"We agree to speed up the border talks so that the existing problems will be solved," Hor Namhong told a press conference.

"We also agreed to cooperate over human trafficking, as Cambodia faces this problem," he said.

The pair said they would resume a Joint Technical Committee on the maritime dispute and vowed the disagreement would not be an obstacle.

"Our problems will not trouble our relations. Whatever our troubles are, we will solve them," Kasit said following the two-hour meeting.

Senior officials met a day earlier in Bangkok, where they kicked off the talks covering cooperation on the economy, trade, education and the border issue.

The ministers also agreed to advance plans for visa exemption scheme when they celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.

They also signed an agreement that will allow some prisoners, after serving minimum periods of imprisonment, to be transferred in order to serve their remaining sentences in their own countries.

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