Saturday, 5 February 2011

Thai soldier dies in fresh fighting at Cambodia border

via CAAI

Sat, Feb 05, 2011

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - A Thai soldier has been killed in clashes with Cambodian troops at the two countries' border, bringing the toll to three in the deadliest fighting between the neighbours in almost two years.

Renewed gunfights broke out briefly near a disputed 11th-century temple early on Saturday, officials on both sides said, just hours after earlier skirmishes left a Cambodian soldier and a Thai civilian dead.

"One Thai soldier was killed by shrapnel and four were injured in a clash lasting about 30 minutes early this morning," said Thai army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.

In a statement, the Cambodian government accused Thai troops of "firing mortar rounds into Cambodia's PreahVihear province".

A Cambodian military commander who did not wish to be named said that one Thai soldier had been captured in the morning skirmishes.

Clashes between the neighbours erupted for the first time in more than a year on Friday as simmering border tensions boiled over.

Six Thai and at least four Cambodian soldiers were also injured in the first bout of fighting, and four Thai troops were captured.

Cambodia has called the fighting an "invasion", while Thailand has branded it an "act of aggression" by its neighbour as both countries accused the other of starting the violence.

"The United States urges both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take all necessary steps to reduce tensions and avoid further conflict," said a a US State Department spokeswoman in response to Friday's clashes.

The Thai foreign ministry issued a statement early Saturday accusing Cambodia of attacking first, calling it a "clear violation" of Thai "territorial integrity".

Thailand claimed Cambodia fired mortars, rocket propelled grenades and artillery shells into Thai territory, and said three thousand civilians living along the border had to be evacuated.

The Cambodian foreign ministry released a similar statement about Friday's clashes, saying "300 Thai troops entered Cambodian territory and attacked Cambodian troops".

"This aggression by Thai armed forces was also followed by the firings of many 130mm and 155mm artillery shells which reached as far as about 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside Cambodian territory," it said.

The area around the temple is claimed by both sides, and Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Phnom Penh planned to complain to the United Nations on Saturday.

Ties between the two countries have been strained since July 2008 by a series of deadly border clashes over land surrounding the temple after it was granted UN World Heritage status.

Thailand and Cambodia have both been talking tough on the border issue, which some observers say serves nationalist goals at home on both sides.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand. The exact boundary through the surrounding grounds remains in dispute.

The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Another border spat has focused on the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, which is built in the disputed area. Thailand on Monday demanded that Cambodia remove its flag from the pagoda, which it said was "situated on Thai territory" -- a claim Cambodia vehemently rejects.

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

Five of the group were given suspended sentences and have since returned to Thailand. The other two, high-profile nationalist activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case that has caused outrage among Thailand's influential "Yellow Shirts".

Hundreds of Yellow Shirt protesters have camped out around Government House in Bangkok since last week, demonstrating against its handling of the border dispute, and the group plans a larger rally on Saturday.

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