PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia said Sunday that Thai soldiers are occupying a second temple site along on their border, an escalation of an ongoing armed standoff that nearly led to clashes between the neighbors last month.
Maj. Sim Sokha, a Cambodian border protection unit deputy commander, said about 70 Thai soldiers on Thursday occupied the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple in a northwestern border region of Cambodia.
Thailand contends the temple is located in disputed territory.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat denied the Cambodian report of troop movements.
The temple is several hundred miles west of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby land.
He said Thai soldiers have been deployed in an 80-yard radius around the temple grounds and have prevented Cambodian troops from entering. About 40 Cambodian soldiers are in close proximity to the Thai troops, he said.
“They (Thai troops) said they will pull back only when the issue near Preah Vihear temple is resolved,” Sim Sokha said Sunday by telephone from Oddar Meanchey province, about 290 miles northwest of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
He said the Cambodian soldiers have been given orders to exercise restraint and wait for the government to try to resolve the issue with Thailand.
Khieu Kanharith, the chief Cambodian government spokesman, said he was aware of the new troop movement but was unable to give details. He said his government will try to solve the issue through peaceful means.
Although it is not as well known as the Angkor or Preah Vihear temples, Ta Moan Thom is part of the architectural wonders of the ancient Khmer empire.
It was built in the 13th century as a rest house along a road linking the ancient Angkor city with what is currently northeastern Thailand, said Chuch Phoeun of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.
The border dispute erupted last month near the Hindu-style Preah Vihear when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations by Thais near the temple.
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 last Monday to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.