Saturday, 19 July 2008

Tensions Escalate Over Temple at Thai-Cambodian Border

Cambodian soldiers stand guard at Preah Vihear temple near Thai border in Preah Vihear province, 17 Jul 2008

By VOA News
18 July 2008

Thai and Cambodian troops deployed at a disputed area along their shared border have pointed their guns at one another for the first time since a standoff began earlier this week.

Cambodian Brigadier General Chea Keo says tensions flared Thursday when several of his troops entered the compound of the ancient Preah Vihear temple. The incident lasted 10 minutes before the Cambodian troops left.

Earlier Thursday, Thai villagers and police blocked protesters from reaching the ancient temple. They shouted at protesters and told them to "go home" and stop making trouble. Local residents are worried about the escalation of tensions between the Asian neighbors. Most of the Cambodian villagers living nearby have fled their homes.

At least 10 people were injured in the clash.

The standoff began Tuesday when Thai soldiers crossed the border after Cambodian authorities arrested three activists for entering the country illegally to reach the ancient temple. The activists have since been released to Thai authorities.

The dispute over the temple intensified earlier this month when the United Nations' cultural organization the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO designated the temple a World Heritage Site. The Thai government last month agreed to support Cambodia's bid to win World Heritage status for the ruins, but then retracted it under pressure from nationalist critics.

The International Court of Justice granted sovereignty of the temple to Cambodia in 1962. But many Thai nationalists rejected the ICJ ruling, which also left ownership of land surrounding the temple in dispute.

Senior officials of the two countries have agreed to meet in the next few days to discuss the issue.

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