A machine gun of a Cambodian army soldier is placed Thursday near an 11th century temple in a province 150 miles north of Phnom Penh.
Published: February 11, 2011
Todd Pitman | Associated Press
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia – Hundreds of Cambodian soldiers were camped Wednesday at a cliff-top Khmer temple in the line of fire from deadly border skirmishes with Thailand, as the Cambodian leader raised the temperature in the conflict by declaring it a “real war.”
Cambodia’s government denies that it deploys soldiers at the millennium-old World Heritage site – seeking to avoid the impression it would deliberately put the temple in danger – and has accused Thailand of seriously damaging the complex.
But Associated Press journalists who visited the temple Wednesday found hundreds of Cambodian soldiers deployed in and around the sprawling temple compound, which was fortified by sandbagged bunkers.
They also saw areas where shrapnel chipped away at some of the sanctuary’s ancient walls, but no signs of large structural damage.
The U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, says it plans to send a team to make its own assessment of the damage.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that the damage constituted a war crime – indicating he has no intention of backing down, despite a fragile truce that has quieted guns for two days.
“Thai Prime Minister Abhisit (Vejjajiva) must be held responsible for war crimes,” said Hun Sen, adding that the conflict was not just an armed clash but a “real war.”
Each country blames the other for starting fighting last Friday that set off several days of artillery duels, leaving at least eight people dead.
Dozens of soldiers were wounded and thousands of civilians were evacuated to safety before fighting eased Monday.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd defended his earlier remarks about Cambodian military presence at the temple.
“It’s obvious,” he said. “You can take a look at the photographs, even the ones taken by them. There’s definitely military presence at Preah Vihear. Their soldiers fired at us from there.”
Hun Sen said that he asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a phone conversation Tuesday night to send U.N. peacekeepers or observers to the area.