Thai troops pull back

A Cambodian general says Thai troops have pulled back from a disputed border zone, averting a possible clash.

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Toops retreated from a disputed border zone today, a Cambodian general said, averting a possible military clash after Cambodia's prime minister issued an ultimatum to Thailand to withdraw by midday. The Cambodian army commander Brig Gen Yim Pim said all Thai troops had retreated and were back inside their camp about one kilometre from the contested territory. "The tense situation has now eased." Earlier, the Thai premier said he was not against the withdrawl but said details must first be agreed. Mr Somchai Wongsawat called an urgent meeting after his Cambodian opposite Hun Sen issued the deadline to remove about 80 soldiers he said had encroached onto their territory.

"Thailand is not opposed to a withdrawal, where each side moves back to avoid confrontation, but we propose that the detail of any withdrawal should be worked out by a joint committee," Mr Somchai said. "The joint committee would consult on how far the two countries must withdraw." Hun Sen's ultimatum came after talks between the Cambodian foreign minister and Thailand's foreign minister Sompong Amornviwat in Phnom Penh, which ended without a breakthrough in the three-month stand-off.

Sompong today appeared bullish, saying he thought should they should wait for Cambodian officials to cool down and insisting the disputed land near the ancient Cambodian Preah Vihear temple belonged to Thailand. "The problem now is not about withdrawing or not withdrawing - it's our territory. How can they tell us that it is their territory?" he said. "As soon as I returned, there was a report of a deadline. What can we do? We are in our own homeland, and they want us to evict us from our own home."

Tensions between the neighbours first flared in July. Tensions escalated into a military confrontation in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks in a small patch of land, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers. *AFP/AP