Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Cambodia says Thai troops cross border

National Nine News
Tue Jul 15 2008

About 40 Thai troops entered Cambodia in the latest flare-up of a territorial dispute over a 900-year-old Hindu temple, Cambodian officials at the border told AFP.

They crossed the border hours after three Thai protesters were arrested for jumping an immigration checkpoint in a bid to reach the ruins of the Preah Vihear temple, said Hang Soth, the Cambodian official who manages the site.

"At first about 20 troops entered a pagoda in Cambodian territory. Later they increased their numbers to about 40," he said.

"We don't understand yet why they came," he added.

The Thai soldiers have positioned themselves at a Buddhist pagoda located on the slope of a mountain, underneath Preah Vihear temple, he said, and the troops and Cambodian border authorities are in discussions.

"We are in negotiations with them so that there is no gunfire and to avoid serious future problems," Hang Soth said.

The governor of the Thai province across from the temple, however, denied that the soldiers were on Cambodian soil.

"It's a misunderstanding. There is no trespassing by our soldiers," governor Seni Chittakasem told AFP.

Seni said he had led a delegation into Cambodia to secure the release of the three protesters, insisting that the soldiers had remained nearby but on Thai territory.

"All three detainees have been released and now are on the Thai side," he added.

The temple was recently declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, despite objections from Thai groups.

The two countries have a long-standing dispute over the land that surrounds the temple, and Thai activists have recently revived nationalist sentiment over the issue.

Cambodia's recent move to secure the temple's world landmark status has angered political leaders in Thailand and sparked small protests by some Thais who feared it would jeopardise their country's claims to disputed land adjacent to the site.

Some Thais have been protesting the listing and demanding the eviction of Cambodians living on land near the temple. In response, Cambodia has sealed off access to the temple from Thailand since June 22.

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