April 4, 2009 Saturday
Updated

April 4, 2009
Cambodia, Thai troops on alert
Thai soldiers stand guard in the disputed border area with Cambodia of Preah Vihear temple. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
PREAH VIHEAR (Cambodia) - TROOPS on both sides of the Cambodian-Thai border were on alert on Saturday after gunbattles near a disputed temple left at least two soldiers dead, a Cambodian official said.

The mood was tense after Friday's firefight, which was the biggest flare-up for months in a bitter feud over territory near the ancient temple.

'The situation at the border is quiet now and back to normal,' a Cambodian commander named Yem Pem said, adding that troops were on '24-hour alert'.

Soldiers exchanged rocket, machinegun and mortar fire on Friday, damaging the staircase of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, following a brief skirmish earlier in the day, officials said.

Cambodia's foreign ministry said a local government office was damaged, and hundreds of Cambodians, who lost their homes and local market in the fighting, were evacuated to a school 20 kilometres away.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sought to downplay the latest incident during a Saturday speech to handicapped veterans and villagers in the southern province of Kampot.

One Thai soldier was killed at the site of the clash on Friday and another died in hospital later, while 10 others were injured, said the Thai military. Cambodian officials reported no casualties.

The clashes came three days after Mr Hun Sen warned Thailand not to allow its troops to cross into disputed land. Bangkok denies claims that 100 went over the frontier a week ago.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the site for decades but tensions spilled over into violence last July when the temple was granted UN heritage status.

Mr Hun Sen and Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva are due to join a summit of Association of South-east Asian Nations and key regional partners in Thailand from Friday.

Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the clashes would not affect talks and that plans remained the same, including for the summit.

Singapore, meanwhile, urged both sides to 'exercise utmost restraint in the broader interests of the region'. -- AFP

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