Thai and Cambodian clashes resume at disputed border
Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops enters a fourth day as Cambodian premier Hun Sen warns of threat to regional stability
guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 February 2011 04.47 GMT
Machine-gun and artillery fire echoed across the frontier between Thailand and Cambodia as fighting between border troops continued for a fourth day near an 11th century temple that has been caught in the crossfire.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the clashes, which began on Friday, resumed early today after halting around midnight. Cambodian officials say Thai artillery has destroyed part of a wall of the Preah Vihear temple, a UN World Heritage Site. Thai officials have dismissed the claims as propaganda, and the extent of the damage is unknown. The temple, built more than 900 years ago, belongs to Cambodia under a 1962 World Court ruling disputed by many Thais.
The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has warned the fighting poses a threat to regional stability. He said the latest clash was sparked after Thai soldiers crossed the border in search of the body of a comrade, and Cambodians opened fire to repel them.
A Thai army spokesman said on Sunday that about 10 Thai soldiers were wounded, while Hun Sen said the clashes resulted in "more human casualties and damages" but did not elaborate.
Hun Sen has sent a letter to the UN Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.
Disputes over the crumbling stone temple, which sits several hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, has fuelled nationalist sentiment on both sides of the disputed frontier for decades.
In 1962 the World Court determined that the temple belongs to Cambodia. Thai nationalists dispute the ruling and have seized on it as a domestic political issue, and the conflict has sparked sporadic battles between the two neighbours over the last few years.
On Sunday, the Cambodian government issued a statement saying "a wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment."
Built between the 9th and 11th centuries, Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu diety Shiva and revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd dismissed reports of damage to the temple as "propaganda", but said Sunday's fighting was more intense than the previous two days.
Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from the area near the temple.
The Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, called earlier for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.