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Thai troops enter Cambodia as temple dispute escalates: official

About 40 Thai troops entered Cambodian territory on Tuesday as tension escalated over disputed land around an ancient temple, a Cambodian official said.

About 40 Thai troops entered Cambodian territory on Tuesday as tension escalated over disputed land around an ancient temple, a Cambodian official said.

The Thai military denied any border violation, saying the troops had only deployed near the disputed area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple "to protect our sovereignty."

The claimed intrusion follows the arrest by Cambodia of three Thai citizens who crossed the frontier near the temple, which was recently awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO.

Thailand claims some of the territory near Preah Vihear.

The Thai troops entered Cambodian territory near the temple, said Hang Soth, director general of the national authority for Preah Vihear temple, an agency responsible for the monument.

'Right to deploy troops'

Cambodian troops have been ordered to be on alert but not to be the first to fire, Hang Soth said.

Thai Maj.-Gen. Kanok Netakawesana, the regional army commander, said in a telephone interview that the troops were on Thai soil close to the disputed area. He declined to give the number of soldiers deployed.

"We are not violating the territory of Cambodia. We have every right to deploy troops here to protect our sovereignty," Kanok said.

Hang Soth said a Thai Buddhist monk, a woman and a man apparently managed to evade a checkpoint on the Thai side and crossed through a jungle border into Cambodia.

The incident marked the first cross-border foray by Thai protesters since Cambodia shut off access to Preah Vihear temple to visitors from Thailand late last month.

International court awarded temple to Cambodia

He said they were immediately stopped by Cambodian guards and were being held until Thai officials came to take them back.

Earlier, he had said the protesters had already been returned to Thailand.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia.

The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia.

Cambodia's recent move to secure the world landmark status has angered political leaders in Thailand. Thais have held small protests, fearing it would jeopardize their country's claims to the disputed land.

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