(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AP) — The military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand entered its fifth day Saturday as both sides continued to reinforce their troops ahead of scheduled talks over a disputed border area near an 11th century temple.
Some 300 more Cambodian soldiers and 100 Thais were seen arriving near the Preah Vihear temple late Friday, although commanders declined to confirm those numbers.
Earlier, Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said Cambodia had about 800 troops as against 400 Thai soldiers in the area.
The countries are to meet Monday in an attempt to defuse the conflict over territory surrounding the ancient temple, which escalated when UNESCO recently approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai activists fear the new status will undermine Thailand’s claim to nearby land since the border has never been demarcated.
Chea Keo said troops from the opposing forces were on the brink of a shoot-out Thursday night when Cambodian monks gathered to celebrate Buddhist lent at a pagoda about 220 yards from the ancient temple.
The incident occurred when Thai troops tried to evict about 50 Cambodian soldiers from the compound of the Buddhist pagoda, where they sought to camp for the night to provide security for the monks. The two sides raised their rifles at each other, but the standoff ended with the Cambodians eventually pulling back, Chea Keo said Friday.
A Thai army spokeswoman said she was not aware of any brinksmanship taking place.
Thai soldiers entered the Preah Vihear area Tuesday, staking out positions at a Buddhist temple compound. However, some resident Cambodian monks remained and Cambodian soldiers have continued to visit them.
“The premier is very concerned about the tension,” Thai Lt. Gen. Surapon Puenaiyakarn said after a meeting between Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Thai armed forces commanders Friday. “But he is optimistic that the meeting Monday will provide a positive and peaceful solution.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to Samak on Thursday saying relations had been “worsening” since Thai troops “encroached on our territory,” and asked Samak to pull them back.
In an effort to contain the tension, the Cambodian interior ministry issued a statement instructing authorities in provinces along the border with Thailand to maintain “good working relations” and avoid “confrontation or violence” with their Thai counterparts.
The dispute has taken a toll on tourism in the area, with the Thai side closed to visitors and the U.S. Embassy recommending Friday that American citizens “defer travel to this area until the situation has been resolved.”
It also is starting to hurt economic relations between the two neighbors. On Friday, about 200 Thai construction workers returned home from Cambodia, said Capt. Supab Srisuk, an immigration policewoman.
“They wanted to return, fearing for their safety,” she said. “They said they would go back to work when the situation returns to normal.”
Associated Press writers Sutin Wannabovorn and Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, Thailand, and Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.