PREAH VIHEAR (AP): Buddhist monks and government officials held a peace vigil Friday at an ancient temple near disputed border land, lighting incense and praying in the shadow of armed troops from Cambodia and Thailand.
Mist hovered over the mountaintop Preah Vihear temple as some 1,000 people prayed for an end to the tense standoff that started July 15 and has fueled nationalist passions in both countries.
“We are gathering here to pray to the souls of our ancestors asking for peace,” said Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon, referring to Khmer kings who built the temple from the 9th to 11th centuries. “We also pray for success in our defense of our territory.”
Thailand and Cambodia both have long-standing claims to 1.8 square miles (4.6 square kilometers) of land near the temple. The dispute flared earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage site. Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations near the temple.
Both sides have stationed soldiers near the site.
About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain at a pagoda near the temple complex, despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers Monday to redeploy them in an effort to ease tension.
“There is no order to redeploy our troops yet,” said Lt. Gen. Chea Saran, a Cambodian deputy commander of the army.
“As long as Thailand is not redeploying its troops, why should we?” he added.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has said his government was ready to go along with a proposed redeployment of Cambodian troops but will not act without Thailand taking the same step. Thailand’s government says the matter is being handled by the National Security Council.
Cambodian soldiers stood guard with weapons in their hands during Friday’s ceremony, which included 67 Buddhist monks who chanted blessings along the stone path leading to the temple.