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Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw troops from around disputed temple

By the CNN Wire Staff
December 22, 2011 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
A Cambodian solider looks across at the Thai border from the ancient Preah Vihear temple in this file picture.
A Cambodian solider looks across at the Thai border from the ancient Preah Vihear temple in this file picture.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thailand and Cambodia agree to implement a court order on a disputed temple
  • The deal follows clashes that displaced thousands and killed at least 20
  • The International Court of Justice order calls for both sides to withdraw troops
  • The countries differ on whether territory around the temple is part of Thailand or Cambodia

(CNN) -- Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to withdraw their troops from the area surrounding a disputed border temple, the official Thai news agency MCOT reported.

The two countries reached a deal to implement an order by the International Court of Justice to put in place a "provisional demilitarized zone" around the Preah Vihear temple, MCOT cited Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh as saying at a news conference on Wednesday.

Thai and Cambodian troops had clashed in the area around the temple earlier this year, displacing thousands of people on both sides and causing at least 20 deaths.

A joint working group will be set up to discuss the rules governing the demilitarized zone, Banh said after meeting with the Thai defense minister, General Yutthasak Sasiprapa, in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

The troop withdrawals, to be carried out as soon as possible, will be supervised by observers from Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Banh said.

Cambodia had asked the International Court of Justice, the United Nation's highest court, to intervene and order Thai troops out of the area.

The court, instead, ruled in July that both sides must withdraw their troops to avoid more casualties.

The 11th century temple sits atop a cliff on Cambodian soil but has its most accessible entrance on the Thai side. The two countries differ on whether some territory around the temple forms part of Thailand or Cambodia.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962. Thailand claims, however, that the 1.8 square mile (4.6 sq. km) area around it was never fully demarcated.

Thailand says the dispute arose from the fact that the Cambodian government used a map drawn during the French occupation of Cambodia -- a map that places the temple and surrounding area in Cambodian territory.

In 2008, the United Nations approved Cambodia's application to have the temple listed as a World Heritage Site -- a place the U.N. says has outstanding universal value.

The decision re-ignited tensions, with some in Thailand fearing it will make it difficult for their country to lay claim to disputed land around the temple.

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