PHNOM PENH: Cambodia said on Sunday Thai soldiers were occupying a second temple site along on their border in an escalation of an ongoing armed standoff that nearly led to clashes between the neighbours last month.

Maj. Sim Sokha, a Cambodian border protection unit deputy commander, said about 70 Thai soldiers on Thursday occupied the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple in a northwestern border region of Cambodia.

Maj. Taveesak Boonrakchart, a spokesman for the Thai army in the disputed area, denied the allegations of an incursion.

He said troops from both countries had been in the area for years.

The temple is several hundred km west of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby land.

Maj. Sim Sokha said Thai soldiers had been deployed in an 80-metre radius around the temple grounds and had prevented Cambodian troops from entering. About 40 Cambodian soldiers are in close proximity to the Thai troops, he said.

Restraint

“They [Thai troops] said they will pull back only when the issue near Preah Vihear temple is resolved,” he said by telephone from Oddar Meanchey province, about 470 km northwest of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

He said the Cambodian soldiers had been given orders to exercise restraint and wait for the government to try to resolve the issue with Thailand.

Khieu Kanharith, the chief Cambodian government spokesman, said he was aware of a new troop movement but was unable to give details.

He said his government would try to solve the issue through peaceful means.

Though it is not as well known as the Angkor or Preah Vihear temples, Ta Moan Thom is part of the architectural wonders of the ancient Khmer empire.

It was built in the 13th century as a rest house along a road linking the ancient Angkor city with what is currently northeastern Thailand, said Chuch Phoeun of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture. — AP