Apparently in connection with a dispute over a 900-year-old Hindu temple, some 40 Thai soldiers have entered Cambodia
On Tuesday, officials from Bangkok as well as from Phnom Penh called the incident a “misunderstanding”, and said it occurred when soldiers went to pick up three Thai protesters who had jumped an immigration checkpoint.
Located on a cliff top, the Thai nationals were seeking to reach the ruins of the Preah Vihear temple.
The Cambodian defence minister said that “the Thai soldiers will return soon. They came to pick up the three protestors but they confused the places”.
“At first about 20 troops entered a pagoda in Cambodian territory. Later they increased their numbers to about 40”, said Hang Soth, who heads the agency that manages the Preah Vihear temple.
But Seni Chittakasem, a local governor, said he had led a delegation into Cambodia in order to secure the release of the three protesters. And he insisted that the soldiers had remained nearby, but on Thai territory.
The three protester, which included a Buddhist monk, had been freed, he said.
“All three detainees have been released and now are on the Thai side”, he said.
Increased pressure on the government
To get accross, the protesters had placed wooden planks over barbed wire on the border. They were vowing to reclaim the temple, that has been handed over to Cambodia by the World Court, in a 1962 ruling.
Shortly before the incident, Thailand’s foreign minister resigned over the temple row.
In two days, Noppadon Pattama was the second cabinet member to resign, which increased pressure on the government of Samak Sundaravej, the Thai prime minister, who was installed just five months ago.
Noppadon Pattama has been accused by Democratic Party politicians of supporting Cambodia on the issue of the temple, which is located on land claimed by both countries as their own.
Last week, World Heritage status has been granted to the temple by the UN cultural organisation, Unesco.
However, Thailand’s constitutional court ruled, on the same day, that when he endorsed Cambodia’s Unesco application without first consulting the Thai parliament on the matter, Mr Noppadon acted unconstitutionally.
Thailand’s own claim to land near the temple is undermined by the endorsement, said critics.
The 11th-century Preah Vihear has been at the centre of a long-running territorial dispute because though the main compound lies inside Cambodia, its most accessible entrance is at the foot of a mountain in Thailand.