Thai, Cambodian troops clash near disputed temple

Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rocket and rifle fire on a disputed stretch of their border on Friday, killing one Thai in the latest flare-up of an ancient feud over a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in two separate clashes near the Preah Vihear temple, which is claimed by both Southeast Asian nations and saw an armed stand-off last year.

One Thai soldier died from a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Cambodian troops when fighting resumed after midday talks between the border commanders failed.

Seven Thai soldiers were also wounded in the second battle, Wiboonsak Neepan, commander of Thailand’s Second Army, told Reuters.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he had received reports of two Cambodian soldiers killed in the initial fighting this morning, but it was not confirmed.

Cambodian officials claimed two Thais died in the morning clash. Thailand said no one was hurt then and it planned to lodge a formal protest with the Cambodian government.

The latest fighting comes a day after a Thai soldier lost a leg when he stepped on a landmine in an area claimed by Thailand.

A Thai patrol visited the blast site on Friday morning and encountered 20 Cambodian soldiers.

“After talks between the two sides failed, the Cambodian side started to walk away and turned back to open fire at Thai troops with rifles and RPG rockets, forcing the Thai side to fire back in self-defence,” Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 4,6 square kilometres of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Tensions rose last month when 100 Thai troops crossed into a disputed area near the temple and were stopped by Cambodian soldiers, but no fighting occurred.

The border had been quiet for months while the Southeast Asian neighbours sought to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last October’s exchange of rifle and rocket fire.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, warned this week that his soldiers would fight if Thai troops crossed the disputed border again.

The site is 600km east of Bangkok and only a decade ago was controlled by remnants of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge guerrilla army.

Few foreign visitors go there, although both countries have said they would like to develop the area as a tourist destination.

The Cambodia-Thailand Joint Border Committee will meet again on Sunday for three days of talks in the Cambodian resort town of Siem Reap to try to find a solution to the row.—Reuters


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