Friday, 18 July 2008

Cambodian, Thai soldiers reportedly draw weapons

Thai soldiers rest near the Preah Vihear temple close to the border with Cambodia

The Cambodian flag flies over the Preah Vihear temple

Cambodian soldiers stand guard at Preah Vihear temple

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AFP) — Cambodian and Thai soldiers pointed their weapons at each other for the first time over a tense land dispute on their border, witnesses and officials said Friday.

More than 400 Thai troops and 800 Cambodian soldiers are stationed around a small Buddhist pagoda on the slope of a mountain leading to the ruins of 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

Witnesses said troops twice pointed their guns at each other during 10 tense minutes Thursday evening when 50 Cambodian troops entered the pagoda compound to protect food supplies for dozens of Cambodian monks.

"Our troops and Thai troops pointed their guns at each other. They were on alert," said Brigadier Chea Keo, commander-in-chief of the army at Preah Vihear .

"After that Cambodian military commanders and Thai commanders held talks for approximatly one hour. We solved our problems after talks with Thai commanders," he said. "The situation is stable now."

He said Cambodian troops agreed to stay outside the pagoda during the night to avoid confrontations.

The mood appeared to be less tense Friday morning as Cambodian soldiers went back inside the pagoda and were seen chatting and smiling with Thais.

But Cambodian Premier Hun Sen told his Thai counterpart Samak Sundaravej in a letter Thursday that the row was worsening and harming their relations.

Top officials from both countries plan to meet Monday to resolve the stand-off.

The troops are deployed in a small area claimed by both countries near the Preah Vihear temple.
Thai troops arrived after three Thai protesters illegally broke across on Tuesday vowing to reclaim the temple, which they say rightly belongs to them.

The World Court in 1962 determined the Preah Vihear ruins belong to Cambodia, even though the most accessible entrance lies in Thailand.

The issue has taken on national importance in both countries.

Cambodia is preparing for general elections on July 27, while Thailand has recently been rattled by anti-government protests, driven in part over the handling of the land dispute.

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