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Thailand sends more troops to Cambodian border

MYT 7:47:22 PM

BANGKOK/PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - 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.

Cambodian troops patrol Engel field at Phnom Trop, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km north of Phnom Penh, October 14, 2008. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Eastern Region Commander Vibulsak Neepan said troops from both sides had retreated slightly but were facing off about 100 metres apart and Bangkok was sending in reinforcements in case the dispute escalated.

"The situation is quite tense at the front line," Lieutenant-General Vibulsak told Channel 3 television.

"We have mobilised more troops and heavy artillery to the area, just enough to resist and retaliate."

His comments came shortly after Cambodian commander General Chea Mon told Reuters by telephone from the border 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 said they were only there 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 Tuesday (0500 GMT).

The Thai military said it was ready for war and the Foreign Ministry told Thais to "think twice" before visiting Cambodia, only fives years after a nationalist mob torched the embassy in Phnom Penh in an argument about another ancient Hindu temple.

Singapore and Indonesia asked both sides to show restraint.

Tensions have been high since July, when 2,000 soldiers faced off only yards apart in trenches dug into a hillside that until 10 years ago was under the control of remnants of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot's guerrilla army.

At the heart of the dispute is 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the temple, which the International Court of Justice awarded to Cambodia in 1962, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

The dispute flared in July after protesters trying to overthrow the Thai government attacked Bangkok's backing of Phnom Penh's bid to list the Hindu ruins as a World Heritage site.

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak and Nopporn Wong-Anan)

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