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Cambodia: Thai troops enter disputed area


July 16, 2008 

Thai-Cambodia Temple Feud
Cambodia: Thai troops enter disputed area

Tensions flared Tuesday on Cambodia's border with Thailand, as a Thai soldier was injured by a landmine and about 100 Thai troops were held near an ancient temple in a territorial dispute, AFP reported.

Officials in both countries called the incident a misunderstanding that occurred after the soldiers went to fetch three Thai protesters arrested earlier in the day for jumping an immigration checkpoint to reach the Preah Vihear temple.

But later a Cambodian government spokesman said the Thai troops were being held until further talks could resolve the stand-off.

"We have not allowed the Thai troops to go back yet, and now more have arrived," spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

The Thai army ranger who stepped on a landmine was released for treatment after the blast ripped off his leg, Khieu Kanharith said.

A Thai military official told AFP that the ranger's leg was amputated after he stepped on the landmine close to the 900-year-old temple, but insisted that the troops had not crossed into Cambodia.

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Khieu Kanharith said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered troops to withhold firing unless fired upon first.

"There's no tension. No one is yelling at each other. We have asked them to stay there for a while," the spokesman said.

"We need to find out more and let them know how they got the border wrong. If they had intended to invade, we would have used our weapons."

The governor of the Thai province across from the temple, Seni Chittakasem, said he had led a delegation into Cambodia to secure the release of the three protesters, insisting 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 protesters -- one man, one woman and a Buddhist monk -- are part of a group calling themselves Dharmayatra.

They had placed wooden planks over barbed wire on the border to get across, vowing to reclaim the temple, which the World Court handed over to Cambodia in a 1962 ruling.

But the temple's most accessible entrance is at the foot of a mountain in Thailand.

Cambodia closed the main border crossing leading to that entrance after about 100 Thai protesters tried to march to the site on June 23.

The temple has provoked a political firestorm in Thailand, where a constitutional court overruled the government's support for Cambodia's bid to win World Heritage status for the ruins.

Foreign minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign in the ensuing scandal and the entire cabinet is now threatened with possible impeachment motions.

Despite the controversy, last week the UN's cultural agency UNESCO awarded the temple World Heritage status in recognition of its importance as an example of ancient Khmer architecture.

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