Thailand and Cambodia turned a pledge to move soldiers out of a disputed border area into a war of words on Tuesday over who should go first.
Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister, insisted that a Cambodian withdrawal was “a matter of when the Thais remove their troops”. Hours before, the two countries’ foreign ministers had agreed to “redeploy troops” away from the area, which is dominated by an ancient Hindu temple.
Thai commanders stationed near the temple said they would welcome any order to pull out but had not received one.
A Thai colonel, who asked not to be named, told the Financial Times that the dispute was a political one. “Our commanders and theirs have never had any intention of fighting. There have been Thai and Cambodian soldiers in this area for a very long time and we know each other too well to want a fight.”
Mr Hun Sen had been expected to soften his stance after his landslide electoral victory on Sunday. In the run-up to the vote he had used the temple dispute to strengthen his patriotic credentials.
The dispute has also inflated nationalist sentiment in Thailand, where the weakened government has been accused of ceding sovereign soil in a United Nations decision to register the temple as a Cambodian world heritage site. The Thai government is fighting for its survival amid court setbacks and street protests.
In the past two weeks both countries have dispatched additional troops to the area.