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Tensions Escalate Over Temple at Thai-Cambodian Border

Thai and Cambodian troops came close to shooting one another as a standoff over land surrounding an ancient temple along their shared border entered its fourth day.

Cambodian Brigadier General Chea Keo says tensions flared Thursday when several of his troops entered the compound of the ancient Preah Vihear temple to protect monks and nuns gathered there.

Thai troops responded by moving in to evict them. The two sides pointed guns at one another and had a standoff until military commanders were able to hold talks.

Afterwards, both sides agreed to stay outside the temple.

Local residents are worried about the escalation of tensions between the Asian neighbors. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundarvej, that the row is worsening and harming relations.

Senior officials of the two countries have agreed to meet in the next few days to discuss the issue, but most Cambodian villagers living nearby have already fled their homes.

The standoff at the temple began Tuesday when Thai soldiers crossed the border after Cambodian authorities arrested three activists for entering the country illegally to reach the ancient temple. The activists have since been released to Thai authorities.

The dispute over the temple intensified earlier this month when the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the temple a World Heritage Site. The Thai government last month agreed to support Cambodia's bid to win World Heritage status for the ruins, but then retracted it under pressure from nationalist critics.

The International Court of Justice granted sovereignty of the temple to Cambodia in 1962. But many Thai nationalists rejected the ICJ ruling, which also left ownership of land surrounding the temple in dispute.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.