Monday, 7 February 2011

Renewed Thai-Cambodian border fighting

via CAAI

Published: 6/02/2011 at 03:31 PM
Online news: Asia

Fresh clashes broke out along the Thai-Cambodian border Sunday near a disputed temple, armies from both countries said, ending a ceasefire agreed after fighting left at least five people dead.

Cambodian top commanders (right) talk with Thai top commanders during a meeting near the Cambodian and Thai border at Anglong Veng district in Odar Meanchey province, some 450 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, on February 5. Both countries said they were working to defuse tensions a day after the neighbours agreed to end fierce fighting near a disputed temple that killed at least five people.

"We are fighting now, they started firing at us first," a Cambodian military commander told AFP, referring to Thai troops across the border.

Thai army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd confirmed the renewed unrest, but accused the Cambodian side of reigniting the violence by firing "fireworks" and shooting.

"Thailand has retaliated. The fighting is still going on. There are no reports of casualties," he said.

A Cambodian soldier who did not wish to be named said mortars, rockets and artillery were being used in the fighting.

The latest unrest, which erupted at around 6:35pm local time (1135 GMT), came a day after the neighbours agreed a ceasefire to end heavy fighting around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple.

Both sides claim the land surrounding the temple, and observers say the dispute is being used as a rallying point to stir nationalist sentiment in Thailand and Cambodia.

The third heavy weapons clashes in as many days came despite reassurances from Thailand and Cambodia earlier on Sunday that they were working to defuse border tensions.

Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has faced pressure from the powerful "Yellow Shirts" at home for his handling of the issue, had said the "army and foreign ministries from both countries are working to normalise the situation".

A Cambodian military commander stationed at Preah Vihear said the Thai and Cambodian armies had held talks to improve the situation, though he cautioned the atmosphere remained "tense" and both sides were "still on alert".

Ties between the neighbours have been strained since the temple was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand and the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) area around the temple is claimed by both sides.

Cambodia said two of its soldiers and one civilian were killed in Friday's fighting, while Thailand said a villager on its side of the border also died.

A Thai soldier was killed in a brief resumption of hostilities on Saturday morning.

The media in both countries have suggested the toll could be much higher, however, with Thai newspapers suggesting 64 Cambodian soldiers were killed. Across the border, it was reported that at least 30 Thai troops had died.

Thousands of people fled their homes as villages were evacuated on both sides of the frontier when the fighting erupted.

But Somsak Suwansujarit, the governor of the Thai border province Sri Sa Ket, said people had started to return to their houses, thinking the situation had improved.

Tensions have flared in recent weeks in the wake of the arrest of seven Thai nationals for illegal entry into Cambodia in late December.

Two of them were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case that has caused outrage among the nationalist "Yellow Shirts".

Around 5,000 "Yellow Shirts", a force to be reckoned with in Thailand's colour-coded politics, gathered outside the government compound in Bangkok on Saturday calling for the prime minister's resignation over the issue.

It has been suggested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) could move to mediate in the row and sources in the Cambodian foreign ministry have said Asean chair and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa will visit the country on Monday.

But the subject of the meeting is unknown and Abhisit on Sunday dismissed Asean intervention as "unnecessary".

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