Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Thai soldiers wounded in latest clashes

via CAAI

Published: April 27, 2011

BANGKOK, April 27 (UPI) -- Sporadic fighting continued for a fifth day on the disputed Thailand-Cambodia border, with 10 Thai soldiers wounded since the weekend.

Soldiers exchanged fire in a disputed area around the Preah Vihear temple and other areas along the border.

Thai army spokesman Col. Prawit Hookaew said the soldiers were wounded in a clash on the border in Surin province when Cambodian soldiers attacked Ta Kwai and Ta Muen Thom temple ruins at 3 a.m., but they were repulsed.

Sporadic small arms fire and some heavy artillery shells were exchanged throughout the day and into the evening, Prawit said. At one point Cambodian soldiers fired at a Thai air force F16 fighter that was flying along the border.

Prawit said Thai forces must be careful when exchanging fire with Cambodian soldiers dug in near the Preah Vihear temple because there are many civilians close Cambodian positions.

"I can assure you that we can protect our sovereignty with our border defense forces," Prawit told reporters.

"Negotiation is out of the question because every movement on the Cambodian side is commanded solely by (Cambodian Prime Minister) Hun Sen. Last night seven or eight artillery rounds were fired at us across the border and one of them landed (4-5 miles) inside Thai territory, near Phanom Dong Rak hospital," Prawit said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Washington was "deeply concerned" by the reports of violence along the Thailand-Cambodia border.

"We strongly urge both sides to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative acts and immediately take all necessary steps to reduce tensions and avoid further conflict," she said.

One of the main areas in the dispute is less than 2 square miles around Preah, since 2008 a World Heritage Site. The temple is in the Dangrek Mountains 300 miles east of Bangkok on Cambodia's northern border.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple was on Cambodian land but the some access to the mountaintop structure passes through the Thai side, a route that Thai troops occasionally seal off.

Around 2,000 troops from both sides are stationed on border patrol. In one of the previous cross-border incidents, in October 2008, two Cambodian troops died and seven Thai troops were wounded in a gun battle lasting an hour.

Clinton's comments come after Association of South East Asian Nations Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan -- a former foreign minister of Thailand -- added his voice to that of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Pitsuwan appealed for both countries to show restraint and stop fighting that also claimed four lives last weekend.

"The world and ASEAN have been alarmed by the new outbreak of violent and fatal clashes along the Cambodian-Thai border," Pitsuwan said.

"I can only add my voice to that call for a peaceful solution to a long simmering tension between our two ASEAN member states. There is really no other alternative to a genuine dialogue between the two sides."

In February, Ban said he was "deeply concerned" about the latest fighting after several years of peace, even though both sides disputed the border in the mountainous region. He called on both sides to "exercise maximum restraint."

Thailand is reviewing its economic and political cooperation with Cambodia, ahead of meetings between Thai and Cambodian politicians at an ASEAN meeting in Indonesia next week. Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is to meet Thursday with ASEAN Chairman Marty Natalegawa.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva instructed all ministries to review all areas of their cooperation with Cambodia.

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