Home > Local News > Thai, Cambodian troops resume shelling at border; 1 Thai soldier killed and thousands flee

Thai, Cambodian troops resume shelling at border; 1 Thai soldier killed and thousands flee

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian and Thai troops resumed an
artillery duel along their disputed border Saturday, killing at least
one Thai soldier as some of the two countries’ fiercest battles in
years entered a second day. The fighting damaged an 11th century temple
and forced thousands of people to flee.
It was unclear what
sparked the latest clash, which lasted at least half an hour and came
after a cease-fire was brokered late Friday. Tensions between the
Southeast Asian nations have risen in recent days because of pressure
from powerful Thai nationalist groups that have been urging Bangkok to oust Cambodians from land near Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple that they claim is actually part of Thailand.
While
full-blown war is unlikely, nationalist passions are inflamed on both
sides — and no clear way to settle the territorial dispute.
Gen.
Chea Tara, the deputy commander of Cambodia’s armed forces, said Preah
Vihear temple — a U.N. World Heritage Site — was damaged when fighting
began Friday. He said several mortar and artillery shells exploded just
yards (meters) away, slightly marring its walls and setting grass and
several trees nearby ablaze.
Casualty accounts differed, but as many as four have died in two days — one civilian each from Thailand and Cambodia, and one soldier from both nations, according to military and media reports from the two sides.
Fighting
resumed Saturday morning a few miles (kilometres) away from the temple.
Ath Vicheth, a Cambodian soldier in the area, told The Associated Press
by telephone that it began after a group of Thai soldiers tried to
cross the border in search of missing soldiers.
Thai Army
Spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, however, denied the claim and said
no Thai soldiers were missing or captured. He said a total of eight
Thai soldiers have been wounded since Friday and 13 Thai homes were
either burned down or damaged. One Thai soldier was killed Saturday, he
said.
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said at least 3,000 people have fled their homes.
On
Saturday, Cambodian troops could be seen sending trucks filled with
soldiers, as well as supplies of fuel and food to the region.
Washington
on Friday urged both sides “to exercise maximum restraint and take all
necessary steps to reduce tensions and avoid further conflict,” U.S.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.
Relations
between the two countries have been contentious for years, including a
series of small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over the demarcation of
the border near Preah Vihear.
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 successfully 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 to help oust 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 Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva over the land dispute.
The
rally by the People’s Alliance for Democracy — also known as the Yellow
Shirts — raised tensions in a country still recovering from political
violence last year in which about 90 people died.
Associated Press Writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report from Bangkok, Thailand.
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