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Protection, Not Incursion: Thai Officers

Thai commanders told a visiting Cambodian delegation on the border Friday they had not entered Cambodian territory near Preah Vihear temple as an incursion, but they had occupied neutral land in order to "protect" Cambodia from Thai protesters.

The Cambodian delegation, led by Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, escorted a group of monks to Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, known in Cambodia as the Prasat pagoda, near Preah Vihear temple, to negotiate a Thai military withdrawal.

About 600 Thai troops remained in the pagoda complex, surrounded by nearly 1,000 Cambodian soldiers, as the military build-up entered its fourth day.

Wary villagers in the surrounding areas continued to flee Friday, and less than 100 people remained near the temples.

Thai commanders said they would leave the temple, though they did not say when.

Around 40 soldiers had come to the pagoda to protect Cambodia from protesters who were angered by the inclusion of Preah Vihear temple on Unesco's World Heritage list, the commanders told the delegation.

More Thai troops were seen massing on the Thai side of the border late Friday.

At least 1,600 troops from each side have massed on the border, in a situation Prime Minister Hun Sen characterized as "worsening" in a letter to his Thai counterpart Thursday.

Thai and Cambodia soldiers pointed their weapons at each other for the first time late Thursday, when Cambodian soldiers were barred from entering the pagoda by Thai troops.

Cambodian soldiers said they had gone to the pagoda to protect the monks and nuns staying there.