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Bangkok and Phnom Penh both claim to own the thin slivers of border land near the stone rubble of an 11th-century Hindu temple built by Cambodians when their Khmer kingdom stretched across much of present-day Thailand.

The cross-border fighting damaged the Preah Vihear temple, which was part of an ancient network of scattered Hindu shrines when Cambodia’s nearby Angkor Wat complex served as a center of political and spiritual power more than 900 years ago.

Preah Vihear also occupies a strategic military position because it is on a high cliff overlooking northern Cambodia’s flatlands 1,722 feet below, about 150 miles north of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

If Thai forces can dominate Preah Vihear or its surrounding territory on Thailand’s eastern border, they would have a high-ground position against Cambodia, making both sides wary of each other’s military forces close to the Dangrek Mountains’ cliffside zone.

Thailand is gravely concerned about the use the temple of [Preah Vihear] by Cambodia for military purposes,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wrote to the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has designated the temple as a World Heritage Site. Both countries want to profit from the growing number of tourists visiting the ruins and stopping at restaurants, shops, hotels and other facilities during their travels.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but a 2-square-mile area on the surrounding cliff is disputed as both countries point to different historical maps.

The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York said on Sunday, “The secretary-general appeals to both sides to put in place an effective arrangement for cessation of hostilities, and to exercise maximum restraint.”

Bangkok’s internal political problems are also a wild card in the volatile mix, which could concern Cobra Gold.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Thai army chief, announced in January that he “did not want to stage a coup” despite his role in a 2006 putsch.

Thailand’s military has staged more than 18 coups and attempted coups since the 1930s. The most recent, in September 2006, overthrew the popularly elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In April and May, the army battled pro-democracy Red Shirts who blockaded Bangkok’s streets, resulting in 91 deaths — mostly civilians — amid protests against the coup and demands to restore Mr. Thaksin to power.

The Red Shirts did not oppose last year’s Cobra Gold. However, Sean Boonpracong, a Red Shirt spokesman at the time, warned, “If the United States ignores us, we would put forth more opposition to the next Cobra Gold exercise” in 2011.

“We have tens of millions of followers,” said Mr. Boonpracong, who later distanced himself from the Red Shirts after being detained briefly by the army last year.

In 2004, the poorly disciplined Thai army suffocated more than 78 minority Malay-Thai Muslim men after tying them up and laying them flat on top of one another in army trucks.

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