Saturday, 5 February 2011

Thai, Cambodian Troops Exchange Fire Along Border

via CAAI

February 4, 2011

Shooting broke out Friday between Cambodian and Thai soldiers on a disputed stretch of their shared border and lasted for more than two hours before a cease-fire was reached.

Thai media reported that a villager had been killed, but there was no official confirmation of the death.

The clash came at a time of heightened tension between the two countries because of pressure from Thai nationalist groups for Bangkok to reclaim the land.

" We don't want to say that it was intentional. It could have been caused by a misunderstanding."
- Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was in Cambodia on a previously scheduled trip related to the border tensions.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the fighting occurred near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which belongs to Cambodia. Thailand claims a small patch of land near the temple.

Sporadic artillery fire lasted for more than two hours, but the battle ended after Thailand's defense minister called to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to the private Cambodian Television Network.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the fighting erupted when Thai troops ignored warnings to stop crossing into its territory. He said the Cambodians shot into the air and the Thai soldiers returned fire.

Thailand disputed that account. Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the clash was triggered by artillery shots fired from the Cambodian side.

"We don't want to say that it was intentional. It could have been caused by a misunderstanding," he told The Associated Press, adding that Thai troops returned fire as a warning.

Sansern said there had been no order to evacuate local residents from the area. However, Thai TV station TPBS showed villagers fleeing for safety.

Maj. Prom Sarouen, commander of the Cambodian police unit guarding Preah Vihear temple, said both sides used artillery and heavy machine guns in the clash. He said some shells had fallen on the temple grounds, but did not know if they had caused any damage.

Cambodia's relations with Thailand have been contentious for years. They have had a series of small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over the demarcation of the border near the Preah Vihear temple.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, but the decision rankled Thailand.

The issue was virtually dormant until Cambodia applied in 2008 to UNESCO to have the temple declared a World Heritage site, an application backed by the government in power in Thailand at the time.

Thai nationalists have argued that the action threatened Thailand's sovereignty, though their protests were seen mainly as a way of rallying criticism of the Thai government. Both countries' leaders, defending their patriotic credentials, then built up military forces at the border.

Last week, the nationalist group that seized Bangkok's airports two years ago gathered in the capital to pressure on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva over the land dispute.

The rally by the People's Alliance for Democracy — also known as the Yellow Shirts — and an associated fringe group raised tensions in a country still recovering from political violence last year in which about 90 people died.

The groups said they will escalate their protest on Saturday.

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