Sunday 23 May 2010 | Thailand feed


Troops from Thailand and Cambodia fight on border

Soldiers from Thailand and Cambodia have fought a fierce battle at a temple on their disputed border.

Thai soldiers stand guard in the disputed border area with Cambodia of Preah Vihear temple: Troops from Thailand and Cambodia fight on border
Thai soldiers stand guard in the disputed border area with Cambodia of Preah Vihear temple Photo: REUTERS

At least two Thai soldiers and two Cambodians were reported to have been killed in rocket and gun fire amid the 900-year-old ruins of the Preah Vihear Hindu temple.

In Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government claimed its army had killed at least four Thais and captured 10 more.

The temple, which has been claimed by both countries for decades, has been the scene of an armed standoff since tensions escalated last year.

Reports said that heavy fighting broke out between the two sides at several locations near the temple. Both armies blamed the other for firing first and denied entering the other's territory.

A Cambodian government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said: "We are fighting with each other, it is serious gunfire. Two of our soldiers have been killed. The gunfire is continuing in at least two areas."

Cambodia later denied losing any soldiers.

A Cambodian soldier posted at the border said: "We used heavy weapons including rockets, machineguns and mortars. In general, we used every weapon given to us. Many Thai soldiers ran away, leaving their weapons behind during the fight."

The spectacular ruin of Preah Vihear stands on a rocky ridge that forms the border between the two countries. In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that the site is inside Cambodia – a decision that still upsets many Thais.

But crucially the court did not rule on 1.8 square miles of jungle adjacent to the temple. That small patch of land is at the centre of the latest tensions.

The first shots appear to have been fired when the armies met in that disputed territory as they examined the site where a Thai soldier lost his leg to a landmine the day before.

On Tuesday the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, accused Thai troops of entering his country the previous week and warned: "I tell you first, if you enter again, we will fight."

In a mark of the bad feeling between the two supposed allies he also lashed out at the Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya, complaining: "He insults me - he has called me a gangster."

Mr Kasit later wrote to Hun Sen saying that there had been a "misunderstanding" and that the word he used "means a person who is lionhearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman".

A Thai dictionary shows that both translations are correct.

Last year, when Mr Kasit was a member of an opposition movement accused of exploiting the temple issue to whip up Thai nationalist sentiment, he appeared on television calling Hun Sen "crazy", "mentally unbalanced" and a "tramp".

Upon returning from the G20 meeting in London, the Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sought to sooth tensions. "It was likely caused by a misunderstanding or accident. I have asked every agency to work to solve the incident by creating a better understanding with Cambodia," he said.

The Cambodian prime minister is due to visit Thailand for a regional economic summit next week.

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