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February 03, 2011

Thailand, Cambodia Border Fighting Breaks Out Amid Tensions

Thai and Cambodian soldiers have exchanged gunfire along their shared border and there are reports of fewer than 10 casualties among the two armies.

Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged fire Friday afternoon with both sides blaming the other for starting the fighting.

Gunfire and artillery shelling could be heard and civilians were evacuated from the area.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says occasional skirmishes were due to the unsecured nature of the border. He says it demonstrates a need to step up efforts under a memorandum of understanding aimed at resolving the territorial conflict peacefully.

"This is why we urge Cambodia to work with us more rapidly under the MOU to negotiate the clear demarcations so we can secure the borders much more effectively," he said.

Panitan says the clash is being investigated and that both sides need to work harder to ensure such incidents do not affect overall relations.

VOA’s Khmer service, however, reported the fighting was extensive, with artillery fire and tank clashes.

The shooting broke out as Thai officials were in Cambodia for talks aimed at resolving the border dispute.

They also met with two Thai nationalists sentenced by a Cambodian court to several years in prison this week for espionage and trespassing after entering disputed territory.

Hundreds of Thai nationalists with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, known as the Yellow Shirts, have been protesting near government offices for two weeks demanding they get tough with Cambodia.

Panthep Pourpongphan is a spokesman for the PAD, which is calling for the memorandum of understanding to be scrapped. He says the latest skirmish shows the MOU is not working.

"This fighting, is kind of evidence, is quite clear evidence that this kind of MOU has so many problems that we need to stop it and [start] new negotiations with a new MOU," Pourpongphan stated.

The fighting took place near the ancient Preah Vihear temple along the border. Thailand and Cambodia both claim territory near the temple.

The two sides have clashed over the border in the past with several deaths on both sides since 2008.