Image: Temple on Cambodia-Thai border
Heng Sinith  /  AP file
A Cambodian flag flutters over the famed Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodia-Thai border in Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, about 152 miles north of Phnom Penh, in June.
updated 7/15/2008 7:10:20 AM ET 2008-07-15T11:10:20

A Cambodian official claimed that about 40 Thai troops entered Cambodia on Tuesday as tension escalated between the two countries over disputed land around an ancient temple. The Thai military denied any border violation.

The long-standing dispute between Phnom Penh and Bangkok over which country owns the land that surrounds the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple flared last week after the temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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. Cambodian troops were placed on alert but ordered not to be the first to fire, he said.

Thai Maj. Gen. Kanok Netakawesana, an army field commander in the region, 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.

Thais arrested
The alleged intrusion followed the arrest by Cambodia of three Thai citizens who crossed the border near the temple. The incident marked the first cross-border incursion by Thai protesters since Cambodia shut off access to the temple to visitors from Thailand late last month.

Hang Soth said the trio were released to Thai authorities Tuesday afternoon.

Thais mainly go to the temple as tourists, as do foreigners. However, Thais have claimed that the land around and beneath the temple belongs to them. They say the colonial French took the land from them when they redrew the map.

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 Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced architectural style of the more famous Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia.

Cambodia's move to secure the world landmark status has angered political leaders in Thailand, and opposition groups have used the temple issue to drum up nationalist feelings in an attempt to bring down Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government. Samak backed the landmark status.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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