Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fresh clashes on Thailand-Cambodia border

Thai and Cambodian soldiers fought with rocket-propelled grenades and guns on their disputed border (Reuters)

Thousands evacuate from villages in disputed border region and several troops killed in artillery and gunfire exchanges.

23 Apr 2011
Al Jazeera and agencies

Clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops have resumed for a second day on their disputed border, shattering a two-month lull in long-standing tensions over their disputed border.

Cambodian officials said that the latest fighting began before dawn on Saturday and had not stopped.

Both sides have evacuated thousands of villagers and accused each other of firing first in the thick, disputed jungle around Ta Moan and Ta Krabei temples in the northeastern Thai province of Surin, about 150 km southwest of the 900-year-old Hindu Preah Vihear temple, which saw a deadly stand-off in February.

On Friday, troops from the two countries clashed with gunfire and artillery shells when fighting broke out near Ta Muean Tom temple.

Three Thai soldiers were killed, and 13 wounded, in the clash, Lieutenant-Colonel Siriya Khuangsirikul, a Thai military spokeswoman, said.

Lieutenant-General Chhum Socheat, a Cambodian defence ministry spokesman, said that three of his country's soldiers had been killed in the clash, and several others were wounded.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in clashes about 100km southwest of Preah Vihear temple, which is claimed by both Southeast Asian nations and saw an armed stand-off in February.

Longstanding dispute

Thailand and Cambodia regularly accuse each other of starting border fighting.

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

A festering dispute between the two countries over land near a different temple erupted into four days of fighting in February, leaving at least 10 people dead and prompting a UN appeal for a lasting ceasefire.

'It is a very similar situation to other times we've seen such skirmishes. It's very difficult to tell who fired first on these occasions,' Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reported from Bangkok.

'The Thais say that the Cambodians came too close to the disputed border ... in Surin, the Cambodians say that Thai soldier actually crept across that disputed border into Cambodian territory.'

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

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6sq km surrounding area.

Observers say the temple dispute has been used as a rallying point to stir nationalist sentiment in Thailand and Cambodia.

'There are many parts of this border ... that are disputed between the two countries,' our correspondent said.

'They have fought over [the ancient Preah Vihear Temple] so many times, or at least the land surrounding that temple.

'What we saw in February, when many people were also forced to flee their homes, they went to temporary evacuation centres inside schools, inside community buildings, and they stayed there for many days - weeks in some cases.

'Certainly it'll be the same case on the Cambodian side as well,' he said.