Cambodia has angrily rejected Thailand’s accusation that Cambodian troops used a centuries-old temple along their disputed border as a military base, revving up a war of words amid a fragile truce.
The mountain-top Preah Vihear temple, designated as a World Heritage site, was the scene of fierce artillery battles during a four-day flare-up of a long-standing border dispute between the two neighbours.
The fighting left at least eight dead and dozens wounded.
Shrapnel from the blasts chipped away at some of the sanctuary’s ancient walls, sparking a debate between the two sides over how much damage was done and who is to blame.
Thailand accuses Cambodia of stationing soldiers at the temple and firing across the border at Thai soldiers, leaving them little choice but to retaliate.
Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today it “strongly rejects such a slanderous assertion,” adding that “there has never been and there will never be Cambodian soldiers” at Preah Vihear temple.
“This has always been a place for worship and tourism,” the statement said, adding that the only security presence at the temple is a small number of policemen with light weapons to ensure safety at the site.
However, hundreds of Cambodian soldiers have been seen deployed in and around the sprawling temple compound, which was fortified by sandbagged bunkers.
Dressed in military camouflage, some played cards inside the temple’s shaded walls. Some rested on cots or hammocks while others poured new sandbags and stacked them up. Aside from scattered rifles, weapons were not visible.