>Thailand sends more troops to Cambodia border, heightening tensions


Cambodian Buddhist monks enter their pagoda as Thai soldiers, pictured in the background, who occupied the pagoda a few days earlier, looked on. (file photo taken in July 2008).

Thailand sent more soldiers to a disputed stretch of the Cambodian border near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on Tuesday, a Thai general said, hours after a Cambodian general said Thai troops had pulled back.

Troops from both sides had retreated slightly but were facing off about 100 metres apart, said Vibulsak Neepan, commander of the Thai Eastern Region. Bangkok was sending in reinforcements in case the dispute escalated, he added.

“The situation is quite tense at the front line,” Lt.-Gen. Vibulsak told Thai television station Channel 3.

“We have mobilized more troops and heavy artillery to the area, just enough to resist and retaliate.”

His comments came shortly after Cambodian commander Gen. Chea Mon, speaking from the border, told Reuters by telephone that nearly 100 Thai soldiers alleged to have made an incursion onto Cambodian soil had retreated.

“The situation seems to have returned to normal,” he said. “Our troops are occupying the area where the Thai troops have pulled out.”

Vibulsak admitted Thai soldiers had entered a disputed “no-man’s land” on the border after getting permission from the Cambodian side, as is normally required. But he said the Thai troops were only in the area to inspect landmines.

On Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to turn the area into a “death zone” unless the Thais retreated by midday local time on Tuesday.

The Thai military said it was ready for war and the Foreign Ministry told Thais to “think twice” before visiting Cambodia.

Singapore and Indonesia asked both sides to show restraint.

Tensions over area flare

At the heart of the dispute is 4.6 square kilometres of scrub near the Preah Vihear Hindu temple. The area’s sovereignty remained unresolved despite the International Court of Justice awarding the temple itself to Cambodia in 1962, a ruling that has upset people in Thailand ever since.

Tensions over the area’s sovereignty flared again in July after UNESCO approved Cambodia’s bid to have the temple listed as a World Heritage site. Cambodia sent 800 troops to the border, and Thailand sent about 400 soldiers.

Both sides had withdrawn most of their troops by August, but it was unclear how many were still left in the area and other border regions.

While there have been no reports of major armed conflict, a brief gunfight broke out on Oct. 3, leaving one Cambodian and two Thai soldiers wounded. Both sides blaming the other for firing first and for being on the wrong side of the border.

Three days after that incident, two Thai soldiers lost their legs after stepping on landmines in the area.

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