News / Asia

Cambodia Reports Fresh Border Clashes With Thailand

A Cambodian family is seen on an empty road as they flee the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 7, 2011.
A Cambodian family is seen on an empty road as they flee the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 7, 2011.

Thai and Cambodian troops have clashed for a fourth day as tensions escalate in a dispute surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said United Nations peacekeepers should be sent to the region.

Hang Chayya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy in Phnom Penh, says Mr. Hun Sen is looking for outside support.

"He’s tried to stop all this by sending letters to the United Nations Security Council for intervention and get to this [an] immediate halt to the fighting and mediation and negotiation to take place," he said.

The latest fighting erupted early Monday, near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

The fighting, which began Friday, has killed at least five people on the two sides, with more than a score of soldiers wounded. Residents on both sides have fled their farms and villages. Efforts to broker a ceasefire stalled have stalled.

Both sides blame the other for starting the fighting. It is difficult for outside observers to get to the area to confirm what the governments are reporting.

News media in Phnom Penh quote a Cambodian commander as saying there has been heavy artillery and rocket fire close to the temple. He said several Thai shells had hit targets deep inside Cambodian territory.

Thailand says several buildings, including a school, were hit. The Cambodian government says part of the temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been damaged.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn on Monday denies reports the Thai military crossed into Cambodia. He says the troops have fired only in self defense.

"We are committed to protect our territory and the lives of the Thai people. We have no intention to do otherwise," he said. "We also fired several warning shots directly to those origins of the target that has been of a military nature."

Neighboring countries are appealing to both governments to show restraint. The Association of South East Asian Nations has offered to mediate.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says both countries need to find a solution "through established mechanisms."

Thailand’s Panitan turned aside international offers to mediate.

"We understand the concerns of the international community, our friends and allies. We welcome their suggestion but we stand very much ready to work with Cambodia bilaterally to make sure that these problems are solved peacefully," he said. "We have informed the United Nations and our friends.  We will continue to inform them as we have new information regarding the attack on the Thai territory by Cambodia."

The two countries have long disputed ownership of the temple. In 1962 the World Court ruled that Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia. A key access point to the complex, however, belongs to Thailand.

In 2008, UNESCO granted it World Heritage designation, prompting protests in Thailand. The U.N. Heritage Committee is to meet in June to decide on a management plan for the temple.

In Thailand, the nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy has called on the government to withdraw from UNESCO and revoke a 2000 memorandum of understanding with Cambodia over border demarcation disputes.

The PAD demands that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign over its handling of the dispute. He has rejected the calls.

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