Cambodia: Temple dispute almost becomes military clash

Soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand came close to opening fire on each other today in a border confrontation over land surrounding an ancient temple.

Soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand came close to opening fire on each other today in a border confrontation over land surrounding an ancient temple.

The stand-off is the latest escalation in a running conflict over Preah Vihear temple, which is similar in style to the more famous Angkor Wat in north-eastern Cambodia.

Thai soldiers entered the surrounding area on Tuesday, staking out positions at a nearby Buddhist temple compound.

Last night 61 monks with 13 nuns and lay people went to the Buddhist pagoda around 200 yards west of the Preah Vihear complex to celebrate the start of Buddhist Lent.

By tradition the Cambodian monks must remain on the temple grounds during the three-month period.

About 50 Cambodian troops entered the pagoda hoping to stay the night to provide security for the monks and nuns, but the Thai soldiers moved to evict them, prompting the gun-pointing, Cambodian General Chea Keo said.

Chea Keo said the incident lasted about 10 minutes before the Cambodians departed.

“We exercised patience to prevent weapons from being fired,” he said.

A Thai army spokeswoman said she was “not aware of any incident where the two troops pointed guns at one another”.

The land dispute came to a head last week when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application for World Heritage Site status for the site. Thai activists fear the new status will undermine Thailand’s claim to nearby land.

To avoid military action, both countries have agreed to hold talks on Monday in Thailand.

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