Friday, November 13, 2009

Armies stay cool as politicians ratchet up the heat

BANGKOK POST Amid the tension over Phnom Penh's refusal to extradite fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra to face jail terms in Thailand, the militaries of the two countries are taking a backseat to the political turmoil to prevent possible confrontation on the battlefield.

Thai military sources said Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and his Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh had set up a direct line to one another out of concern that diplomatic fallout could translate into military problems.

The two sides agreed that the stake was too high for the two countries to go to war and agreed to keep "microphone diplomacy" at a minimum and not to aggravate the already tense situation, the sources said.

They also agreed not to beef up their military presence among the common border and vowed to keep the troop strength along the area at current levels.

The Thai Army is also planning a football tournament between Thai and Cambodian soldiers on November 21. The location of the match has yet to be selected, the source said.

As gesture of goodwill, Thai marines yesterday released two Cambodian soldiers - each with gift baskets of fruit - after they had been detained briefly.

According to local television reports, the two Cambodian soldiers had trespassed into the Thai side of the border.

Unlike the country's diplomats, Thai and Cambodian soldiers along the common border are old acquaintances.

In spite of the military soft diplomacy, a contingency plan is in place to evacuate local residents in case of clashes along the border.

All Thai armed forces have been told to stand by in case fighting between two sides erupts. Thailand's top brass said they would rely heavily on the country's superior air force power while ground troops would secure the common border.

Hun Sen is billing the tension as a personal dispute between himself and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whom he accuses of coming to power by obstructing Cambodia's bid to obtain Unesco's World Heritage bid for the historic Preah Vihear Hindu temple, which is situated near overlapping land claims.

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