Cambodian and Thai forces nearly exchange fire amid temple standoff

Troops from Cambodia and Thailand have been amassing around Preah Vihear, an ancient temple claimed by both countries. UNESCO recently granted Cambodia's application for World Heritage Site status for the site.

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A confrontation between Thai and Cambodian troops Thursday nearly resulted in violence, as the dispute between the two countries over the Preah Vihear temple worsens.

The Associated Press reports that the latest incident is part of what Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called a "deteriorating situation" between the two countries, caused by the dispute over the 11th-century temple and its surroundings, located along the border between the two countries.

The near bloodshed came after several attempts by Thai nationalist protesters to occupy the temple. On Tuesday, three Thais were arrested in Preah Vihear by Cambodian forces, after the trio illegally entered the area and attempted to raise the Thai flag over the temple, according to the Bangkok Post. The protesters were later released without charges. And Reuters reports that before the military confrontation Thursday, a large group of Thai protesters attempted to reach the temple, but were blocked by Thai police and angry local villagers.

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Both sides began sending troops to the Preah Vihear area after United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced that it was granting Cambodia's application to add the Preah Vihear temple to UNESCO's World Heritage List, which consists of "properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value." Preah Vihear has long been a source of contention between Cambodia and Thailand, as both sides have claimed the temple and the area around it over the years. UNESCO's listing of the temple is seen by some as strengthening Cambodian sovereignty over the site, though The Phnom Penh Post notes that in announcing the listing, Mr. Sen emphasized that it "does not affect the process of border negotiations between Cambodia and Thailand."

The BBC reports that title to the temple fell to Cambodia largely through the actions of France and the International Court of Justice, which ruled the temple belonged to Cambodia in 1962.

The Nation, a Thai newspaper, writes that despite the international court's decision, some Thais maintained that their country still had a claim to the temple by "intentionally misinterpreting" one of the terms of the ruling.

Further, the Nation adds, some Thais are worried that the temple's listing in Cambodia could serve to strengthen its claim of sovereignty over other nearby areas whose ownership remains disputed.

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