Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Khmer temples fired on by Thais: Cambodia


AP  April 26, 2011

via CAAI

CAMBODIA yesterday accused Thailand of damaging two ancient temples during three days of clashes in which at least 12 soldiers have died.

There was no immediate comment from Thai authorities, and the extent of the damage was unclear yesterday as a precarious calm held in the disputed border region housing the nearly 1000-year-old stone temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey from the Khmer empire.

The chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, was in intense talks with both sides to try to end to the conflict, said Hamzah Thayeb, an official at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry who oversees Asia-Pacific affairs.

Mr Natalegawa had been due in Cambodia yesterday but the trip was postponed because Indonesia was still negotiating terms on sending in military observers -- a move Thailand has rejected.

The dispute between Cambodia and Thailand involves small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fuelling tensions.

Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia's 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thailand's objections.

The clashes are the first since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near the Preah Vihear temple, which suffered minor damage from exploding artillery and mortar shells that knocked small chucks out of a few of its walls.

The latest fighting is about 160km west of Preah Vihear and resumed late on Sunday night, both sides said.

A Thai army spokesman claimed Cambodian troops had opened fire and killed a Thai soldier while a Cambodian soldier on the front line claimed Thai snipers had killed one Cambodian soldier and wounded two others.

Cambodia's Defence Ministry said Thai forces fired 1000 artillery and mortar shells on Sunday, damaging the two temples and some shells had landed about 20km inside Cambodian territory, destroying a school and a dozen homes and forcing 17,000 people to flee.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a cease-fire but the two sides disagree on what triggered the fighting and differ on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Indonesia's efforts to mediate have been stymied so far by Thailand's reluctance to allow Indonesian military observers into the area of dispute. Thailand insists the problem should be solved through bilateral talks with Cambodia, but Cambodia wants third-party mediation.

The fighting comes as Thailand's military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of elections expected by July. The army previously effectively vetoed a plan to have Indonesian observers monitor the border situation.


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