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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thai, Cambodian troops break cease-fire

From Kocha Olarn, CNNApril 30, 2011 5:34 a.m. EDT

Cambodian soldier on guard near Cambodia-Thailand border on April 28 2011
 Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged gunfire near a disputed temple Saturday despite a cease-fire agreement between the two nations.

The brief rounds of fighting near the Ta Kwai temple involved small arms weapons, said Col. Prawit Hukaew, a regional Thai army spokesman. It started late Friday into early Saturday.

Fighting may be a result of Cambodian soldiers not being aware of the cease-fire set Thursday, the spokesman said.

It should cease once Cambodian soldiers in the conflict area learn about the truce, he said.

Cambodia's government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Fighting along the turbulent border has raged since April 22 as the two sides accuse each other of trying to seize ancient temples. Thailand calls the temples Ta Kwai and Ta Muen, while Cambodia calls them Ta Krabey and Ta Moan.

Much of the border between the two countries remains in dispute.

At least six Thai soldiers and one civilian have been killed in the clashes, authorities said. Cambodia has said three of its troops have been killed in the fighting.
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Guest Commentary: Empowering women key to healing Cambodia

By Micah Greenstein, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Courtesy Micah Greenstein
Rabbi Micah Greenstein shares a meal with students of the Harpswell Foundation's leadership center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Since I returned from Phnom Penh in January, I've been asked, "What's a nice Jewish guy like you doing helping Buddhist and Muslim girls in Cambodia?" My usual response: "Because this is what Jews are called to do."

Each of the world's great religions suggests a fundamental problem with the world and a solution to that problem. For Judaism, the predicament facing the world is brokenness -- the absence of shalom. Judaism's solution? Being God's partner by healing this broken world whenever and wherever possible.

It's called tikun olam, literally "the repair of the world." A lofty goal certainly, but one which requires recognizing the pain of humanity and bringing hope wherever one can. Even as an American Jew in Cambodia.

In January, I had the privilege of spending three days with students at the Harpswell Foundation's leadership center for university women in Cambodia's capital city.

My time there culminated with an Interfaith Symposium on Spirituality attended by members of the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities in Cambodia, with guests from Bangkok to Boston. It was the first time Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish or Christian leaders had ever convened in Cambodia, and it was a sublime and unforgettable experience.

The Harpswell Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by former Memphian Alan Lightman, the MIT professor and best-selling author. "When I was in Cambodia," Alan told me 12 years ago, "I met with the children of the survivors, and there is a unique determination and spirit to go on despite the odds."

As I heard Alan speak about the resilience, talents and desire of these children of Cambodia to survive, I couldn't help but think of the eerie parallel to the Jewish experience. Cambodia and Israel form the bookends of Asia, but the stories of the Cambodian people and Jewish people in the 20th Century are more than a matter of geography.

From 1975 to 1979, more than one in four Cambodians -- about 2 million people -- were exterminated by the Khmer Rouge. This genocide occurred only decades after the murder of 6 million Jews by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In 1945, the Jewish people shouted, "Never Again!" Thirty years later, the world let it happen again.

Cambodian men, women and children were tortured, forced to dig their own mass graves, then beaten to death with iron bars and hoes. Some were buried alive. The instigator of this genocide, Pol Pot, said to those he murdered, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss." Every Cambodian lost relatives and friends. Many lost their entire family. But what sadly distinguishes the Cambodia genocide is that educated people were singled out for extermination.

The mission of Lightman's Harpswell Foundation is to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia and the developing world, specifically through housing, education and leadership training.

In January, I lectured and learned at the leadership center in Phnom Penh, two dormitories which provide a safe place for about three dozen women to live while they attend college. Harpswell believes that those educated women with the magnetism and creative vision to match constitute the most powerful force to bring about positive change in Southeast Asia's poorest country.

In a world filled with darkness, the Harpswell community in Cambodia is pure radiant light. These top female leaders whose parents somehow survived the genocide represent every part of the country and are the best hope for their nation. All have earned scholarships to colleges and universities. Many are the only female students in their fields and are already at the top of their class.

The girls at Harpswell truly believe that if they can become college-educated only years after living in squalor, anything is possible. They are the seed of a global movement to emancipate women and girls for the improvement of humankind.

While I was there, I thought of parallels to Memphis and the occasional words of hopelessness and despair heard from naysayers when it comes to finding solutions to our most pressing problems. Interestingly, these future Cambodian leaders in government and business who came from nothing expressed an interest and willingness to show our youth in Memphis what's possible when you follow a dream and work hard.

As a result, I am hopeful that my next visit to this global role model will result in strengthening the learning link between Cambodia and Memphis to help alleviate poverty, improve education, and elevate the plight of women from violence and fear to hope and optimism.

Tikun olam, the repair and healing of this world, mandates that we join hands with God as Abraham did, and respond to a world in pain. By putting out the fires of violence, ignorance and tyranny, we begin to build the kind of world God wants and needs us for in this lifetime.

Harpswell and Memphis are good places to start.

Micah Greenstein is senior rabbi of Temple Israel.
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New skirmishes on Thai-Cambodian border

By Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP)
PHNOM PENH — Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged fire on their disputed border for a ninth straight day on Saturday, both sides said, casting doubt on efforts to end the countries' bloodiest conflict in decades.

The latest hostilities at two ancient temples on their shared jungle frontier erupted just hours after Cambodia announced a second truce in as many days, although Bangkok denied knowledge of a new peace deal.

Each side has traded accusations of untrustworthiness in solving a dispute that has killed 16 people and displaced more than 85,000 civilians.

"Even though there is a recent ceasefire... Thailand still breached it," Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh on Saturday.

"It shows that we cannot trust our counterpart," he said in comments that echoed those made by Thai officials a day earlier.

The latest flare-up was confirmed by both countries, but while it was followed by a lull in fighting, frontline soldiers remained on alert.

"Clashes could happen at any time," Cambodian field commander Suos Sothea told AFP by telephone.

There were no reports of new deaths, although at least 10 Thai soldiers were injured in clashes on Friday night and Saturday morning, army sources in Thailand said.

Cambodia's defence ministry accused Thailand in a statement of using grenades and firing mortar rounds at Cambodian troops in the latest clashes.

The two neighbours have come under increasing international pressure to stop the violence.

A first attempted truce on Thursday, confirmed by the two countries, proved short-lived and Bangkok has contradicted Phnom Penh's latest claims, saying Friday's talks between commanders on the ground did not amount to a genuine breakthrough.

"We actually have talked at local officers' level which I hope will lead to a real ceasefire," said Thailand's government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

Hor Namhong returned Saturday from The Hague where he had submitted a request to the World Court to clarify a 1962 ruling about land around the ancient Preah Vihear temple -- an area that has inflamed tensions between the two neighbours.

"The request for the interpretation by the court is a way to resolve the problem peacefully," he said at Phnom Penh airport.

The court ruled more than four decades ago that the 900-year-old temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

Thailand said it had hired legal advisors and would fight the case.

The stone structure has been the focus of border tensions since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008 and 10 people died in hostilities between the neighbours there in February.

The Thai-Cambodian frontier has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from years of war in Cambodia.

The current unrest is centred around two other contested temple complexes 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Preah Vihear, although there was some fighting at the site itself on Tuesday.

Seven Thai troops and eight Cambodian soldiers have died since the fighting began on April 22, and Bangkok has said a Thai civilian was also killed.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Cambodia Seeks Court Ruling on Dispute With Thailand

Cambodia has called on the International Court of Justice to review a 1962 judgment over a disputed ancient Hindu temple along the Thai border. The move follows renewed fighting that broke an hours-old ceasefire.

Thai military armoured vehicle

In a submission to the International Court of Justice, Cambodia calls for an interpretation a 50-year-old ruling that gave the 11th century temple to Cambodia.

Cambodian Foreign Affairs Spokesman Koy Kuong announced the move Friday in Phnom Penh.

The spokesman says his government wants the court to interpret the 1962 decision that gave Preah Vihear to Cambodia. He says that ruling was based on a map that is recognized by the international community.

The border around the temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand, has remained in dispute despite the 1962 decision. The temple is most easily accessed from Thai territory, and Bangkok claims ownership of the land near it.

Cambodia announced its appeal to the international court hours after new fighting along the border broke a ceasefire agreement. Both sides blamed the other for the clash

The ceasefire agreement reached on Thursday aimed to end a week of fighting, which has claimed at least 16 lives and forced tens of thousands of villagers from both countries to flee homes near the border.

The Thai government thinks the latest clashes are linked to Cambodia’s move to petition the International Court of Justice. Thani Thongphakdi is a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman:

"From our perspective I think this puts all the jigsaw pieces in place," said Thani Thongphakdi. "What the Cambodian side has been doing since it had been initiating these conflicts along the border. It was laying the path, laying the ground work for their decision to submit a request to the International Court of Justice."

The countries have fought sporadically along the border since 2008, when Cambodia obtained World Heritage status for the Hindu temple. That angered many Thai nationalists, and both sides increased military patrols along the border.

It is not clear what started the latest fighting. Regional political analysts, however, say that domestic politics on both sides makes it hard to resolve the dispute. In Cambodia, they say, it appears Prime Minister Hun Sen benefits by appearing tough against a larger neighbor, and it is possible he hopes that elections expected in Thailand later this year will allow his friend, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to power.

On the other side, the analysts say, Thailand’s powerful military commanders may hope a crisis along the border will provide an excuse to call off elections, and keep a new government from shaking up the senior ranks.

The border issue is set to be raised at a summit of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be held in Jakarta next month. Thailand says the summit may lead to talks between Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Cambodia’s Hun Sen "if conditions are right".

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Thai, Cambodia cease fire breaks; toll rises to 16

Medical personnel examine an injured Thai soldier at a hospital following clashes between Thai and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, Thursday, April 28, 2011. Thai and Cambodian military commanders agreed to a cease-fire Thursday after seven days of artillery duels killed at least 15 people, Cambodia said. Thailand did not immediately confirm it, but the contested border was quiet most of the day. (Wason Wanichakorn / AP)

By Sopheng Chheang, associate press, Thanyarat Doksoine

PRASAT, Thailand (AP) — Thai and Cambodian troops broke a brief cease-fire and clashed for an eighth day Friday, shattering hopes of a quick end to a long-running border conflict that has forced nearly 100,000 villagers to flee. The death toll rose to 16.

Fighting erupted in the morning and again briefly Friday night, both countries' troops said as displaced residents on each side waited to see if the worst skirmishes in years between the Southeast Asian neighbors might finally end.

"I wish both sides could talk, so that there is no more fighting," said Boonteung Somsed, a 58-year-old Thai construction worker who fled to the village of Prasat, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the border.

"Every time a soldier picks up a weapon," he said, "a village has to run away from home."

Thailand and Cambodia have clashed six times since 2008 over the border, where several crumbling Hindu temples built nearly 1,000 years ago during the Khmer Empire sit atop cliffs and in jungles mined in wars past. The land has been disputed for more than half a century, but analysts say domestic politics on both sides is driving the conflict as much as any real disagreement between the countries.

Field commanders agreed to the brief truce Thursday in a meeting at the disputed border. But Cambodian Col. Suos Sothea said the Thai army again fired artillery shells into Cambodia early Friday and small arms fire crackled anew around the Ta Krabey temple, which is in a disputed area.

"We cannot trust the Thais," he said. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again."

Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said there had been light clashes late Thursday as well as early Friday. He blamed Cambodia for breaking the deal, saying its "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did."

Sansern told reporters in Bangkok that the Thai army sent a 10-member delegation of middle-ranking officers across the border into Cambodia to meet with their counterparts again Friday on how to avoid further clashes. "The first step is to sustain the truce, then we can take further steps for talks," he said.

The director of Phanom Dongrak hospital, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the border, confirmed one Thai soldier was killed late Thursday, bringing the total dead to 15 soldiers and one civilian.

Thai authorities say the fighting has uprooted 51,000 people from their homes. Cambodia's Red cross says more than 45,000 people there have also fled over the past week.

"I want both countries to stop fighting, so that I can go home," said 37-year-old, Saman Yingnaram, a farmer in Prasat. "My cassava field will be sabotaged by (insects) by the time I return."

On Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his Thai counterpart had agreed to allow Indonesian observers, but there was no word on when they would arrive. Cambodia had already agreed to the deployment.

Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after the last round of fighting in February.

Few believe the conflict will lead to full-scale war and neither side appears to be trying to capture territory.

Some believe Thailand's military fears the possible outcome of elections expected in June or July and is trying to rally Thais behind it. Thai media have suggested Cambodia's Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, was fomenting border tensions to distract his public.

Both militaries have said they were merely defending against foreign aggression.
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Thai-Cambodia ceasefire breaks down

Border skirmishes continue for an eighth day as both sides accuse the other of breaking a short-lived truce.

Thai soldiers near the border with Cambodia in Surin province as fighting there killed at least 16 people [REUTERS]

A brief ceasefire between Thailand and Cambodia has broken down, shattering hopes for a quick end to the border conflict as the two sides exchanged fire for an eighth day.

Field commanders agreed to the truce in a meeting at the disputed border on Thursday. But Cambodian Colonel Suos Sothea said the Thai army fired artillery shells into Cambodia again on Friday and small arms fire crackled anew around the Ta Krabey temple, which lies in a disputed zone along the frontier.

"We cannot trust the Thais," he said. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again."

The death toll since the clashes has risen to 16.

Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said there had been light clashes late on Thursday as well as early on Friday.

He blamed Cambodia for breaking the deal, saying its "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did."

The director of Phanom Dongrak hospital, about 20 km from the border, confirmed one Thai soldier was killed late on Thursday, bringing the total dead to 16.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Ta Mieng, Thailand, near the border with Cambodia, said that "Thais are beefing up their presence, but Cambodians are doing the same as well.

"More and more people in Thailand, are starting to believe that there are political motives behind these clashes.

"Cambodia has used these clashes as a political tool for internal politics."

Meeting cancelled
Prawit Wongsuwon, Thailand's defence minister, had been expected to meet Tea Banh, his Cambodian counterpart, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday - but reportedly pulled out of the trip because of alleged comments made on Cambodian television.

Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman responded by saying Thailand "isn't honest about wanting to reach a permanent ceasefire".

The bloodiest fighting along the disputed jungle border in decades has spread to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, the focus of strained relations between the neighbours since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008.

The area, 150km east of two other disputed temple complexes that were the scene of fierce fighting over the weekend, had been relatively calm for two months.

Thailand says it wants a bilateral solution to the dispute, while Cambodia seeks international mediation and independent monitors in the region - as agreed by Association of South East Asian Nations foreign ministers in Jakarta in February.

Sovereignty over the ancient, stone-walled Hindu temples - Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey - and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dentist Miranda preparing for Cambodian trip

Miranda Steeples
 A DENTAL therapist from Old Town is off to Cambodia to help provide orphaned children with dental treatment.

Miranda Steeples, who practices at Meads Village Dental Practice and Southern Dental, in Stone Cross, will be travelling to Cambodia on May 11 for two weeks.

It will be the 33-year-old’s first trip to work at a dental clinic in Phnom Penh but she will be travelling with a friend who has been out to help the clinic before.

The clinic is supported by Cambodia World Family and is run on a daily basis by local girls trained as dental therapists.

Volunteer dentists, dental therapists and nurses from around the world travel out to work there throughout the year treating local orphans and street children.

Miranda said, “Children in this country have access to dental treatment and we can take that for granted.

“It is easy to forget that children in Camodia don’t have access to such treatment.

“The children we will be treating are also orphans too so life is really tough for them.”

Miranda has contacted Oral B and Colegate which have donated toothbrushes and toothpaste for her to take out for the children but she is appealing for local people to bring in other items.

Miranda said, “These children have very little so we are hoping people will drop off good quality, second-hand children’s clothing for youngsters up to the age of 14, small toys, colouring books and crayons.”

There are donation boxes in both the Meads and Stone Cross surgeries. Cash donations are also needed so that Miranda can supplies and materials when out in Cambodia.

The dental surgeries are located at 11 Meads Street, Eastbourne, and on Mimram Road in Stone Cross.
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Heavy losses give Cambodia good reason to cry

Cambodian defence spokesman Chhum Socheat did not shed crocodile tears to win sympathy from the world when he talked to reporters during a recent press conference on the Thai-Cambodia border clashes.

It could be true that heavy losses suffered by Cambodia during the border clashes with Thailand brought him to tears, and not the heart-wrenching drama in the Thai soap opera Dok Som Si Thong, as army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd suggested. Col Sansern earlier said that Lt Gen Chhum Socheat might have been a bit too impressed by Reya, a popular and artificial female character in the Channel 3 soap opera, which can be seen in Cambodia.

A highly placed military source said that when Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon telephoned Gen Tea Banh to discuss the prospects of a ceasefire after the clashes had entered a second day, his Cambodian counterpart turned down the peace overtures.

Gen Tea Banh told Gen Prawit that Cambodian soldiers were met with too much of a ''heavy-handed'' response from Thai troops and that a ceasefire was still not possible, the source said.

''A lot of Cambodian soldiers have died. They suffered heavy losses.

''But they started the fight and Thai soldiers had to retaliate,'' 2nd Army chief Thawatchai Samutsakhon said.

''If they shell us, Thai troops will retaliate by launching even heavier shelling,'' Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

Border military sources have said that if the Cambodian side fires one artillery shell, Thai troops will retaliate with around five shells. ''We launch about 200-300 artillery shells each day [during the fighting],'' a source said.

During the past two months, since the Feb 4-7 clashes with Cambodia in Phu Makhua, near Preah Vihear, Thai troops have amassed plenty of artillery shells, multiple rocket launchers (MRLs), and radars in the area.

Gen Prawit, while on a visit to China this week, will hold talks to buy additional 130mm MRL systems and radars from China at a cost of 1.2 billion baht.

After heavy retaliatory shelling on April 26, a day of few skirmishes, Thai troops spotted Cambodians collecting a number of bodies of their dead colleagues.

Cambodia reported that eight of its soldiers were killed on Tuesday.

Cambodian army deputy commander Hun Manet, son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has reportedly moved back from his headquarters at O Smach opposite the Chong Jom border checkpoint in Surin's Kap Choeng district to 20 kilometres inland from the scene of the clashes.

Since the latest spate of fighting erupted, Cambodia suffered its worst losses during a battle near the Kap Choeng border on April 24 and 25, the source said. A deputy commander of Cambodia's Brigade 42, who was the son of a former Khmer Rouge military leader, was among those killed in the clashes, said a Thai intelligence report.

Cambodia and Cambodian soldiers have been dragged into a conflict not of their own choosing. Hun Sen wields complete control over them and he has already made the choice on their behalf, a Thai soldier said.

Thailand and Cambodia yesterday agreed to a ceasefire after one week of border clashes.
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Expert warns of threat from deadly bird flu

A flu expert has warned that the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus strain could re-emerge in the country if stringent measures to prevent the spread of the disease are not taken.

The warning was issued yesterday at a health conference entitled ''The Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases: Situation, Lessons and Management'' held by Mahidol University.

Tawee Chotpitayasunond of the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health told participants at the conference that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had reported 36 bird flu cases in humans over the past four months in four countries _ Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt.

Of the total, 16 had died and five of them were Cambodian nationals.

According to the WHO report, two of the five who died in February were a 21-year-old woman and her 11-month-old son. They had been sent for medical treatment at a hospital in Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province, opposite Thailand's Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province. An investigation found the mother had contracted the virus from an H5N1-infected chicken she had killed and eaten.

When the deaths came to light, Thai health and livestock authorities immediately stepped up measures to prevent the spread of the disease in humans and poultry and to control the trade of eggs and poultry along the Thai-Cambodian border.

The reported number of bird flu cases in humans in the four-month period is higher than the 40 cases worldwide last year. Therefore, the prevalence of bird flu was likely to remain at least as severe as in the previous outbreak when it was at 60-70%, Dr Tawee said.

''If [Thailand] doesn't take stringent measures to prevent the flu spreading, particularly in areas where previous outbreaks have taken place, the virus may return to harm [Thai] people after years of having disappeared,'' he said.

He added the situation could turn into something similar to what was happening in Cambodia and Indonesia where the number of people who have died from bird flu has been rising continuously since the start of this year.

There have been no bird flu cases in humans in Thailand since July 2006 after previous outbreaks between 2004 and 2006. During that time, 27 infections were reported and 17 people died.

In a related matter, WHO Southeast Asia regional director Samlee Plianbangchang also warned there was another strain of the H1N1 influenza virus active in the region.

Dr Samlee said the deadly flu virus might re-emerge in Thailand and other developing countries at any time if these countries lacked effective surveillance.

Yong Puworawan, head of Chulalongkorn University's Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology, said there were now signs that the H1N1 virus had become resistant to the anti-viral drug oseltamivir.

Following monitoring of the three waves of H1N1 flu outbreaks during 2009 and 2010, the drug resistance rate had shown signs of increasing.

Dr Yong said that in the first wave there were no drug-resistant cases, whereas the drug resistance rate of the H1N1 flu virus during the second and third waves was at 0.2% and 0.8% of the 1,200 cases of the H1N1 virus, respectively, he said.

The virologist, however, remained confident that the medicine was still effective in treating influenza because H1N1 had become a seasonal flu and about 40-50% of the Thai population had already been vaccinated.
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Unions Threaten May Day March Despite Ban

A Cambodian garment worker speaks on a loud speaker as she leads a strike in front of a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010.

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a circular on Thursday banning workers from assembling on International Labor Day, May 1, but a coalition of unions says it will go ahead with plans.

The missive comes after the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union announced plans to gather some 3,000 laborers in Phnom Penh to mark the day.

Ath Thon, president of the coalition, said he plans to gather the workers in a march nevertheless.

“This circular shows a tightening on the rights to assembly and march, but up to now, our working group will follow the plan without changing,” he said. “Our assembly will not affect security and public order. The authorities have the ability to protect security and public order. I think the government should not worry about this.”

The march is scheduled to start in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, near Wat Phnom, and pass by the Royal Palace and National Assembly, where workers will bring a petition for better working rights and conditions.

In the circular, Hun Sen calls for the Ministry of Interior, the national police, military police, city and provincial authorities and other government institutions to “take action” in order to maintain public order.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association, which is under the coalition, called the order a threat to constitutional freedoms.

His union will not hold an assembly due to budget concerns, he added.

“This is a worry and a threat by the government to the freedom of assembly and expression of the Cambodian people,” he said.

The proposed March comes as workers face increasing pressure from food and fuel prices, while salaries remain low.

“We see the rising price of goods in the markets, particularly gasoline, making difficulty in people’s lives,” he said. “So we’re requesting the government provide a resolution for the salary of workers, teachers, government staff, police and soldiers, on balance with the market prices for them.”
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Call for Government to ‘Step Down’ Over Border

A military vehicle with a mounted grenade launcher makes its way during clashes between Thai and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, Thursday, April 28, 2011. Thai and Cambodian military commanders agreed to a cease-fire Thursday after seven days of artillery duels killed at least 15 people, Cambodia said. Thailand did not immediately confirm it, but the contested border was quiet most of the day.

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy issued on open letter Wednesday demanding that the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen step down over his handling of the border conflict with Thailand.

If the government cannot peacefully resolve the border issue, he wrote, “this government must step down to allow Cambodia to avoid wars and losing land to the west and to the east.”

His letter came amid continued fighting on Wednesday and ahead of a reported ceasefire between Thai and Cambodian generals on the border Thursday.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan called the letter a “desire for attention” that ignored positive surveys that say many believe the country is moving in the right direction.

“Even though he does not have the support of the public, who are the Cambodian people, he still confronts [the prime minister],” Phay Siphan said.

The government is pursuing strategies to solve the border conflict with Thailand, he said, and the government is working with Vietnam to shore up border areas peacefully.

Sam Rainsy claims the government is ignoring the Paris peace agreement, which ensures Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty.

Sam Rainsy said his uprooting of markers along the Vietnamese border in 2009 was a victory. He is facing 12 years in prison sentences of a variety of charges stemming from his accusations that Cambodia has ceded land to Vietnam.

Both Vietnam and Thailand claim they have not encroached on Cambodian land.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More troops sent to Thai-Cambodian border as fighting goes on

Peace talks cancelled and prime ministers of both countries engage in war of words

Cambodian villagers forced to leave their village near the Thai border in Oddar Meanchey province on Wednesday. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Military reinforcements, including heavy artillery and trucks packed with soldiers, poured into the area along the Thai-Cambodia border as fighting between the two countries entered into its sixth day with neither side showing signs of backing down.

Shelling and mortar fire between the two sides has led to tens of thousands of refugees evacuating to border camps with at least one civilian and 13 soldiers reported killed in the firefight.

The conflict is the most serious fighting between the two nations in decades and stems from a demarcation carried out in the 1950s by an international court which left the 12th-century Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples and surrounding jungle areas in Cambodian territory.

Early on Wednesday morning mortar fire could be heard near the temples after fighting broke out at 5.15am and lasted nearly an hour. The fighting destroyed seven homes and injured more than 40 civilians.

"We are preparing for fighting in the early evening," Thai military spokesman Colonel Prawit Hookaew said from his busy makeshift headquarters. "This is the worst fighting we have had for a very long time."

In Thailand, heavy artillery and trucks packed with well-equipped soldiers could be seen travelling along empty highways towards the frontline. On the Cambodian side, truck-mounted rocket launchers are reportedly being deployed to the border.

In order to protect civilians from the mortar fire, more than 50,000 refugees on both sides of the border have been moved to camps away from the fighting. Cambodian military have reported villages being hit by mortar nearly 20km from the border.

Previous hope for an end to the fighting was lost when planned peace talks between Cambodia and Thailand were cancelled on Wednesday.

At a surprise visit to Koke Klang temporary refugee camp – home to more than 3,000 villagers who have escaped the fighting – Thailand's prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, blamed Cambodia for the postponed meeting.

"We are ready to have talks with Cambodia, they said they wanted to, but then they continued to attack Thai troops so we had to cancel the meeting," he told refugees as they sat around on straw mats in the school-cum-camp. "Thailand will not invade Cambodia but if they attack us then we are prepared to fight back in order to save the country."

Cambodia said on Tuesday it would refuse bilateral talks until the meeting of Asean countries in Jakarta in May and are seeking international mediation.

Making some of his first comments on the conflict, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen said in a speech to a women's group on Wednesday that Abhisit was to blame. "The current Thai leader likes war, provokes war," he said. "Cambodia is a small, poor country and has fewer forces, but don't you forget that an ant can make an elephant not get any sleep," he said. "Cambodian's weaponry is not just slingshots."

Despite the official line of conflict over sovereignty, experts believe domestic politics in both countries are to blame for the conflict. The Thai army is said to be dragging on the conflict by rejecting Indonesian observers, in order to exert its power and retain relevance in Thai politics.

In Cambodia, some believe Hun Sen is attempting to wield nationalist sentiment to gain support for his son. It is also believed that he could be attempting to discredit Abhisit and therefore boost support for opposition parties in the forthcoming elections.
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Cambodia PM welcomes talks after Thai border clashes

By Prak Chan Thul Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered Wednesday to meet one-on-one with his Thai counterpart after six days of sporadic fighting that has killed at least 14 people, raising hopes of a ceasefire in Southeast Asia's bloodiest border dispute in years.

Both sides remained on high alert near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples following a night of shelling that killed a Thai villager and exchanges of heavy artillery that began before dawn and lasted several hours.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his first public comments on the conflict, called Thailand's premier a "thief" whose government committed "terrorism," but said he was willing to discuss clashes at the two temples in one-on-one talks.

"Cambodia wants to solve the issue peacefully with talks," Hun Sen, a fiery orator and former soldier, said in a speech, adding he would raise the issue with Abhisit and other Southeast Asian leaders during a summit in Indonesia on May 7-8.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would welcome talks if Cambodia "ends the use of violence."

"If they want talks, the easiest thing to do would be to stop the attacks and return to talks within the framework that already exists," Abhisit told parliament.

The fighting has killed eight Cambodian and five Thai soldiers, and one Thai civilian. More than 60,000 people have taken refuge in emergency evacuation centers.

A meeting between Thai and Cambodian defense ministers expected Wednesday was abruptly canceled after Cambodian media reports suggested Thailand had admitted defeat, said Thai Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.


Sovereignty over the ancient, stone-walled Hindu temples -- Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey -- and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.

But many experts say the fighting is fueled more by political interests than territorial claims, as each government seeks to discredit the other by appealing to nationalists at home, especially ahead of a Thai election due by July.

A change in government could be in Cambodia's interests.

Analysts said the Thai military could also be flexing its muscles to preserve its sizeable stake in Thailand's political apparatus and to satisfy conservative elites at odds with the country's powerful opposition forces.

Thailand says it wants a bilateral solution, while Cambodia has sought international mediation and the deployment of independent monitors in the disputed area as agreed by Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in Jakarta in February.

Those differences are posing a major test for ASEAN, a 10-member bloc with ambitions to become a regional community by 2015 and a viable counterweight to China's growing clout.

It is also a potential embarrassment for Indonesia, whose foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, had brokered the U.N.-backed ceasefire pact in February that would have placed unarmed Indonesian military observers along the disputed border.

The Thai army objected and the deal never went through.

Thailand's foreign minister is due to meet with Natalegawa Thursday in Jakarta.

(Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok and Sukree Sukplang in Surin. Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thailand & Cambodia in Fourth Day of Cross-Border Fighting

The Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs is trying to call a halt to gunfire and shelling near the border with Cambodia. On Monday villagers ran for cover to their prepared bunker, it's the fourth day of artillery exchange across the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Two disputed 12th century Hindu temples are at the core of the conflict.

The two sides battled for more than three hours from late Sunday morning and pounded each other with mortars and artillery, sending hundreds of villagers fleeing or into hiding in makeshift bomb shelters.

Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs visited an evacuation shelter about 19 miles from the scene of recent fighting.

Kasit Piromya, Thai Foreign Affairs Minister]:
“I appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government of Cambodia to care about the interests of both countries and civilians of both sides and also to maintain stability and development of ASEAN community.”

Thailand has resisted international observers so far.

[Kasit Piromya, Thai Foreign Affairs Minister]:
“It's not something we are opposed to. This is a sensitive issue… The urgent priority at the moment is that we need the Cambodia's army commander who is on another side to resume communication with our army's eastern commander.”

Thailand says the ancient temple ruins are in its Surin Province but Cambodia insists they fall in its territory.

Thai officials say at least 30-thousand civilians from border villages were evacuated while Cambodian officials say about 17-thousand villagers fled the area.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the two sides talk to arrange a ceasefire.

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Flexibility key to ending fighting

As Thailand and Cambodia continue to engage in what has become the deadliest border fighting in years, Assoc Prof Surachart Bamrungsuk, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University who has been studying issues relating to the problem-plagued border, assesses the impact on Thailand if the clashes are prolonged.

He shares his opinions with Bangkok Post reporter AMORNRAT MAHITTHIROOK.

How will the latest clashes affect the border situation?

The situation in Surin shows the possibility of a prolonged problem. I do not mean that the clashes will continue with no end. I do not think the international community will let that happen. But what is obvious is that the Thai-Cambodian border issue will become a long-term problem that will need serious attention.

Is it possible the clashes in Surin could expand to other areas?

The 798-kilometre-long border between Thailand and Cambodia includes many problematic spots. The area at the Preah Vihear temple is only one of 15 problematic locations along the land border. There have been problems at the clash sites in Surin province too. So, an expansion [of the fighting] is possible because there are more contentious areas than have been seen. What has so far drawn little attention is the problem of the marine border which is actually a big issue.

How long do you think the border fighting will continue?

Asean will not let the armed clashes continue for long as the regional bloc plans unification in a few years. Asean will find a way out. If it cannot, the United Nations will give a signal. The international community will certainly step in and that will not benefit Thailand.

Thailand has tried to call for a bilateral approach to solve the problem but the Thai-Cambodian conflict has passed its bilateral stage. The previous clashes at the Preah Vihear temple and Phu Makhua areas ended up with the United Nations Security Council assigning Asean to mediate.

Is Thailand's bilateral stance a result of its pride from the fact that it has never been "colonised"?

The assumption may make some sense but we have to take note that in the past Thai or Siamese diplomats were flexible in handling problems with neighbouring countries and in the international arena. The present Thai government is not flexible when it comes to its international policies. If we remain inflexible, the problem will grow.

Will Thailand be at a disadvantage if the problem is handled multilaterally?

Inflexibility [in international relations] would put Thailand at a disadvantage. If you think that you can deal with the issue in court, you must recall the battle at the International Court of Justice from 1959 to 1962. A return to the court would mean a return to using the same old documents - the 1893 treaty [which King Rama V signed to cede Mekong territories to France], the 1904 convention [which allowed then Siam and French colonial authorities ruling Cambodia to form a joint commission to demarcate their mutual border] and the 1907 map [the so-called Annex I map].

There will be nothing more than those old documents. Will they bring us any legal advantage?

More importantly, a war is not a solution. If a war leads to a greater disadvantage for the country, will the government or the military leaders be there to take responsibility?

Thailand also had border problems with Malaysia and Laos. What enables the country to coexist with them? Why can't Thailand and Cambodia reach a similar agreement?

Thailand shares its land borders with Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia for a combined distance of 5,656 kilometres. It has problems on all sides of the borders.

A border dispute with Malaysia was calmed with a joint development agreement, even though the dispute concerned a marine border, which is more complicated than a land-based one. This is an interesting and successful model that should be applied now.

Does the past case of ownership over the Preah Vihear temple remain a major obstacle?

I think it does but the case is over. If the Preah Vihear temple is allowed to be developed as a World Heritage site, new cultural tourism routes will be built from Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia to the Preah Vihear temple through to other stone temples in the Northeast of Thailand.

There are about 100 ancient stone temples in Nakhon Ratchasima province alone. The regional tourist link would boost tourism in the Northeast. I see more good than harm.
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US welcomes delay in controversial Mekong dam

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday welcomed a delay in construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong River, voicing hope that Southeast Asian nations would work to ensure it is environmentally sound.

Cash-strapped Laos wants to go ahead with the $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam which would generate hydropower for export, but a meeting last week with officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam put off a decision.

The neighboring countries asked Laos for further study of the dam amid warnings by environmentalists that it would seriously impact fish, trigger algae growth and disrupt the lives of millions who rely on the river.

"The United States welcomes the recognition by riparian states of the need to consider fully the potential economic, environmental and social impacts of hydropower development," the US State Department said in a statement.

"We encourage the countries to continue to work together to realize their shared vision of an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River basin," it said.

Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, has pressed for an active US role against construction of the dam which he argued would have "devastating" consequences for the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 launched a Lower Mekong initiative as part of a drive to re-engage Southeast Asia, which the US administration charged was overlooked during President George W. Bush's tenure.

President Barack Obama's administration has worked with the four countries to chart out the effects of climate change and last year offered nearly $150 million to public health efforts including AIDS treatment.
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Private sector has four proposals to ease border tensions

By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
The Nation

Thai businesspeople, fearing that the border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia will harm bilateral trade and investment if they drag on much longer, will make four proposals to the government aimed at easing tensions.

The Joint PrivateSector Committee will make the proposals to Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwankhiri soon, it announced yesterday.

The first proposal is that the government carefully consider closing border checkpoints as well as cutting the supply of electricity to Cambodia. Second, concerned agencies and media should be more careful with the release of information that could intensify the conflict.

Third, the two countries should find ways to compromise over the disputed territory to ensure further border trade. Finally, economic and security issues should be clearly separated to reduce tension or conflict between the two countries.

Payungsak Chartsutipol, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the business sector still had confidence that the border conflict will be eased soon.

"People of the two nations are considered relatives. Nobody wants to see war or any fight," he said.

The closure of checkpoints should be considered only at a certain point and for a short period; otherwise, it would affect overall trading and people's confidence, Payungsak said.

Despite the conflict, private enterprises of Thailand and Cambodia have insisted on setting up the ThaiCambodian Business Council to strengthen trade and investment growth.

Thanit Sorat, secretarygeneral of the council and vice chairman of the FTI, said private enterprises were conducting business activities as usual although the tension has decreased investors' confidence.

Bilateral trade is expected to grow continuously to more than Bt85 bilฌlion this year from last year's Bt79.26 billion. However, Thanit said prolonged fighting would not only affect investment but also lower the value of bilateral trade between the two countries, particularly crossborder trade.

For instance, Thanit pointed out that Thai investment in Cambodia had shrunk considerably over the past few years because of the border conflict. Only one project from Thailand worth Bt30 million was approved by the Cambodia Investment Board last year.

From August 1995 to June 2009, 81 Thai projects have been launched in Cambodia with a combined investฌment value of Bt7.02 billion. Of these, nine projects are hotels worth Bt4.29 billion, followed by agriculturalindustry schemes worth Bt2.34 bilฌlion, and garmentindustry projects worth Bt221 million.

Bilateral trade between Thailand and Cambodia was worth Bt79.26 billion last year. Of that, Bt55.41 billion was from crossborder trade, of which exports from Thailand were valued at Bt51.11 billion.

The flareup at the border has hit the tourism industry hardest, as tourists have cancelled their bookings to Cambodia. Eventually, it will directly harm inbound tourism from Cambodia as well.

Thailand is projected to boost crossborder trade with Cambodia by 8 per cent to Bt59 billion this year. Crossborder trade with that country accounts for 7.09 per cent of the Kingdom's total crossborder trade value.

Poonsak Kunudom, counsellor for the Thai Trade Representative in Phnom Penh, said bilateral trade between Thailand and Cambodia was still growing normally.

The Commerce Ministry's Export Promotion Department has no plans to cancel the Thailand Trade Exhibition 2011, which will be held from May 1922 in Phnom Penh.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Troops ready to fight with Cambodia if government orders: Thai army chief

BANGKOK, April 25 - Thai army commander-in-chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday reaffirmed the army is ready to engage in battle with Cambodia if the government orders so, standing firm that the Indonesian observers will be allowed to observe the border only if Cambodia withdraws its troops from the conflict zone and returns to dialogue.

The army chief made his remarks following criticism over the operations of the Thai military in the latest border clashes with Cambodia.

The renewed border clash occurred near the Ta Kwai and Ta Muan Thom temples in Surin on Friday. Sporadic clashes have been reported since then as border demarcation remains disputed by the two neighbouring countries despite attempts to resolve the problem through meetings of bilateral commissions at several levels.

The renewed border clash occurred near the Ta Kwai and Ta Muan Thom temples in Surin on Friday. Sporadic clashes have been reported since then as border demarcation remains disputed by the two neighbouring countries despite attempts to resolve the problem through meetings of bilateral commissions at several levels.

Five Thai soldiers were killed while 35 were wounded during the four days of clashes. About 25,000 border area residents in Surin and about 4,500 others in Buri Ram have been evacuated from their homes to temporary shelters.

Gen Prayuth stated troops have been deployed in every conflict zone to protect Thailand's sovereignty and have never retreated even a single step from the border.

Now the soldiers are staying fixed at the Thai border and we are ready to fight if ordered by the government, but [whether] the government can do it or not depends on the bilateral agreements that we have made with [our] neighbour,” the army chief said.

Gen Prayuth noted that whether the battle will occur or not depends on the governments of the two countries, adding that war has not been declared and that the latest incidents are only normal clashes along the border.

He stated that if a third country wants to intervene in the talks between Thailand and Cambodia in case the parties cannot continue their bilateral talks, such action will be accepted only when Cambodia withdraws all its troops from the disputed areas.

"There must be no Cambodian soldiers at Preah Vihear temple, or in local communities and temples, otherwise no observers will be allowed to do their work," Gen Prayuth asserted.

The army chief said that concerned agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters and the three armed forces disagreed with having third country observers, but if necessary, the army has already made its stance clear to the Abhisit government that all troops must leave the disputed Preah Vihear area.

Meanwhile, Cambodia accused Thailand of damaging the two ancient temples during three days of border clashes that killed 12 people on both sides.

Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency reported Cambodia's defence ministry as saying in a statement that the Thai attacks had caused damage to the ruins, without giving further details.

"We do not know the extent of the damage to the temples yet," AFP quoted ministry of defence spokesman Chhum Socheat as saying. (MCOT online news)
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Ties with Cambodia in danger

Govt threatens harder line over 'hostile acts'

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said the government will review all ties with Cambodia since Phnom Penh had shown no intention of bringing the border spat back to the negotiating table and had continued to commit hostile acts against Thailand.

His comment came after Thai and Cambodian troops battled yesterday for a fourth straight day along the disputed border area in a fresh bout of violence which has claimed the lives of five Thai soldiers and at least seven Cambodian troops.

"Cambodia has attacked Thailand continuously and intentionally," Mr Kasit said after returning from a trip to villages affected by skirmishes in Surin province.

Thailand had tried to contact Cambodian officials at all levels to work out a truce, but the Cambodian side repeatedly refused to talk, Mr Kasit said.

"Since Cambodia showed no intention to negotiate, we have to revise our relationship with the country in a bid to return peace and safety to people along the border areas," the minister said.

Mr Kasit said he would discuss the policy alteration with Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon after the latter returns from Surin today.

The ministry will also inform fellow Asean members that the fatal clashes erupted because Cambodia encroached on Thai territory, he said.

But while the government is taking a harder line, Thailand's military appears more open to compromise.

Gen Prawit said yesterday he was ready to hold talks with his Cambodian counterpart through the General Border Committee (GBC) in a third country.

It is the first time that the Thai military has agreed for a GBC meeting to be held outside Thailand or Cambodia.

The minister said he wanted the eighth meeting of the GBC, which is co-chaired by both Thai and Cambodian defence ministers, to take place earlier than originally scheduled in June.

Cambodia is set to host the GBC meeting but if it is not ready, the Thai armed forces are willing to hold the meeting instead, said Gen Prawit.

"The GBC meeting can be held anywhere, but it must be a bilateral issue," he said.

A source at the Defence Ministry said Gen Prawit will travel to Indonesia to attend the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting in mid-May and he will meet his Cambodian counterpart, Gen Tea Banh, to discuss the border issue on the sidelines to prepare for the GBC meeting.

But the military's stance on Indonesia's proposal to deploy observers to border areas on both sides remains unchanged.

Indonesian observers may be allowed to enter the disputed area on the condition that Cambodian soldiers withdraw from the area around Preah Vihear temple and other temples and communities in the area, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says.

Gen Prayuth said the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the armed forces have disagreed with the proposal to allow a third country to observe.

"But if it is necessary, we have put forward a condition that all Cambodian soldiers must withdraw from Preah Vihear," Gen Prayuth said.

"There must not be Cambodian soldiers around Preah Vihear, other temples and communities. If Cambodian soldiers remain, there will be no observers."

Gen Prayuth said he did not consider the clashes to be a war, but if does escalate, Thai soldiers are ready to protect the country's sovereignty, he said.

Gen Prayuth dismissed reports that Thai troops retreated during the fighting.

"We will launch an attack at the government's order. If the order is issued today, by tomorrow we will have seized the area," he said, adding that troops of the two countries are now face to face 100 metres away from each other's territory.

A border clash broke out near Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temples in Surin's Phanom Dong Rak district again when Thai and Cambodia troops exchanged artillery fire yesterday evening. No casualties were reported.

A previous exchange had broken out at around 10.30pm on Sunday.

Paramilitary ranger Aree Kongnakpanao was killed and six soldiers injured.The wounded were taken to a hospital in Wirayothin military camp and Surin Centre hospital in Surin.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand has evidence Cambodian troops had attacked first and Mr Kasit would discuss the issue with the Asean chair on Thursday.

Mr Abhisit said negotiations were useless if Cambodia wanted to escalate the conflict. There will be retaliation if Cambodian opens fire, he said.
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Cambodia says Thailand damaged temples

Cambodia on Monday accused Thailand of damaging two ancient temples during three days of border clashes between the Southeast Asian neighbors that have left at least 12 soldiers dead.

Cambodian armored vehicles stand by near disputed border
There was no immediate comment from Thai authorities, and the extent of the damage was unclear Monday as a precarious calm held in the disputed border region housing the nearly 1,000-year-old stone temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey from the Khmer empire.

The current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, was in "intense" talks with both sides to secure an end to the conflict, according to Hamzah Thayeb, a senior official at Indonesia's foreign ministry who oversees Asia-Pacific affairs.

Natalegawa was due in Cambodia on Monday, but Thayeb said the trip was postponed because Indonesia was still negotiating terms on sending in military observers - a move that Thailand has so far vehemently rejected.

The dispute between Cambodia and Thailand involves small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fueling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia's 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thailand's objections.

The current round of clashes is the first reported since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near the Preah Vihear temple, which suffered minor damage from exploding artillery and mortar shells that knocked small chucks out of a few of its walls. The latest fighting is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Preah Vihear.

After easing earlier in the day, fighting resumed late Sunday night, both sides said.

Thai Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Cambodian troops opened fire, killing a Thai soldier. Chea Samrach, a Cambodian soldier on the front line, said Thai snipers killed one Cambodian soldier and wounded two others. Ten soldiers died in the first two days of the clashes.

Cambodia's defence Ministry said Thai forces fired 1,000 artillery and mortar shells Sunday, damaging the two temples. Some shells landed about 12 miles (20 kilometers) inside Cambodian territory, forcing 17,000 people to flee and destroying one school and a dozen homes, and setting ablaze some farming fields, the ministry said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a cease-fire, but the prospects for peace appear shaky, with the two sides disagreeing on what triggered the fighting and differing on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Indonesia's efforts to mediate have been stymied so far by Thailand's reluctance to allow Indonesian military observers in the area of dispute. Thailand insists the problem should be solved through bilateral talks with Cambodia, but Cambodia wants third-party mediation.

The fighting comes as Thailand's military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of general elections expected by early July. The army previously effectively vetoed a plan to station Indonesian observers to monitor the border situation.

- AP
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Thai-Cambodia border clashes raise diplomatic stakes

Regional diplomats stepped up efforts Monday to end the clashes along a disputed border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Thai soldiers, in red berets, train defense volunteers to use the shotguns at a village near the Thai-Cambodian border in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, on Monday, April 25. Cambodia accused Thailand of damaging two ancient temples during three days of border clashes that killed 12 people, as Southeast Asian diplomats struggled Monday to find a way to end the repeated deadly flare-ups.

By Simon Montlake

Bangkok, Thailand
Diplomats are struggling to tamp down on four days of deadly firefights between Thai and Cambodian troops along their disputed land border. Repeated clashes between the two militaries, egged on by nationalist rhetoric from both sides, has thus far proven an intractable and embarrassing issue for Southeast Asia's regional diplomatic body.

Thailand and Cambodia have each accused the other of provoking fighting that erupted Friday, which has killed at least 12 soldiers and forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee. The clashes are the deadliest in nearly three years of skirmishes along the mountainous border, which is disputed in several places, including around the grounds of an 11th century Hindu temple known as Preah Vihear.

The latest fighting broke out near two other ancient Hindu temples. Cambodia said Monday that Thai troops had damaged the ancient sites, though similar claims have proven to be exaggerated in the past. Both sides have fired mortar shells and rockets in recent days.

IN PICTURES: Preah Vihear temple battle

While Thailand insists on settling the dispute via bilateral talks, Cambodia has repeatedly appealed to the United Nations to intervene. In February, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which both countries belong, agreed to send observers to monitor a ceasefire in what analysts say is a test of ASEAN’s diplomatic weight. Until now, the group of 10 nations has focused on economic cooperation and steered clear of thorny border disputes.

As the current ASEAN chair, Indonesia offered to send observers to the border. But disagreement over the observers’ role, and opposition from Thailand’s powerful military, has delayed the mission. Angered by the delays, Cambodia has accused Thailand of reneging on its commitment to ASEAN’s monitoring mission.

Amid wrangling, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa canceled a planned visit Monday to Bangkok even as ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan called for "a genuine dialogue between the two sides." Thailand's foreign minister is currently scheduled to fly to Jakarta later this weeks for talks with Mr. Natalegawa.

In a statement Sunday, the Cambodian government described Thai claims of recent Cambodian aggression as a “slanderous and false allegation, which is aimed at misleading the public opinion.”

Thani Thongpakdee, a spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Cambodian troops were to blame for the latest clashes. He said that Thailand was ready to accept Indonesian monitors, as long as they were unarmed and confined to specific border areas. However, he admitted that the current fighting was outside the designated areas.

“We still believe that having these observers in here is better than not having them and gives some kind of confidence to those living along the border,” he says.

The controversy over Preah Vihear, which was listed in 2008 as a World Heritage Site, dates back at least 50 years. In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia. Thai nationalists argue that this ruling was based on flawed French colonial-era maps and that it should be given to Thailand.

Thailand’s polarized politics may be stoking the current conflict, amid warnings of military meddling in a planned election in June or July. Some analysts believe that saber-rattling by Thailand’s military could be a tactic to delay the election and suppress the opposition, which is loyal to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday that he wanted to repair bilateral ties with Cambodia. “We don’t want it [the fighting] to escalate,” he said.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thai-Cambodian border fighting enters third day

In this photo released by Xinhua, Cambodian soldiers gather in a military camp in Banteay Ampil district of Oddar Meanchey province, Cambodia, on Saturday.

Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged artillery fire on Sunday in a third day of fighting that has killed 10 soldiers and uprooted thousands of villagers from their homes.

Officials from both sides said the clashes over disputed territory lasted about two hours on Sunday morning. Cambodian military officials said the shooting resumed in the afternoon.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire, but the prospects for peace appeared shaky, with the two sides disagreeing on what triggered the fighting and differing on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Thailand reported no new casualties, after four of its soldiers were killed and 17 wounded over the previous two days. Witnesses saw one Cambodian soldier and a Cambodian television journalist wounded on Sunday. Colleagues said the journalist suffered a head wound but did not appear seriously hurt. Cambodia earlier reported the deaths of six soldiers.

The dispute between the neighbours stems from their claims over small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fuelling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia’s 11{+t}{+h} century Preah Vihear temple was given U.N. World Heritage status over Thai objections.

The current round of clashes is the first reported since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near the Preah Vihear temple. The latest fighting is about 160 km west of there.

Mr. Ban has called on Cambodia and Thailand to implement an effective and verifiable ceasefire. A U.N. statement late Saturday said Mr. Ban believes the dispute cannot be resolved by military means, so the two countries must engage in a serious dialogue to resolve the underlying problems.

Indonesia, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has tried to mediate, but its efforts have been stymied so far by Thailand’s reluctance to allow Indonesian military observers in the area of dispute. Thailand insists the problem should be solved through bilateral talks with Cambodia, but Cambodia wants third-party mediation.

On Saturday, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said his government is willing to accept Indonesia’s assistance in solving the crisis, but he was awaiting approval from Thailand’s Defence Ministry.

Sunday’s flare-up came after it seemed that calm might have been restored. Witnesses on the Cambodian side said an important border crossing that had been closed for two days had been reopened, and Thai media said some of an estimated 20,000 civilians who had been evacuated from the battle zone were starting to move back. The border crossing, which is not in the battle zone, was shut again shortly after fighting resumed.

Each side has accused the other of starting the latest fighting, which has mainly involved artillery duels at long range.

Thailand rejected accusations Saturday that it had used chemical weapons against Cambodian troops.

A Cambodian Defence Ministry statement charged that Thailand had fired 75- and 105-millimeter shells “loaded with poisonous gas” into Cambodian territory, but did not elaborate. Col. Suos Sothea, a Cambodian field commander, said separately that Thailand had used both cluster shells — anti-personnel weapons banned by many countries — and artillery shells that gave off a debilitating gas.

Mr. Kasit said the allegations were not true, and Col. Tawatchai Samutsakorn, commander of Thailand’s 2nd Army Region, denied that cluster bombs or poison gas had been employed by his forces.

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of small bomblets that scatter over vast areas. Some can lie dormant for decades until disturbed, posing enormous danger to civilians.

Thailand acknowledged using cluster-type munitions in border fighting in February, but argued that they were not of the type banned from use by 108 countries under an international treaty. Thailand has not signed the pact, but has publicly pledged not to use such weapons.

The fighting comes as Thailand’s military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of general elections expected by early July. The Army previously effectively vetoed a plan to station Indonesian observers to monitor the border situation.
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N.Y. Doctor held in Cambodia on child sex charge

A New York doctor who traveled to Cambodia to volunteer at a children's hospital is being held in a Phnom Penh (puh-NAHM' pehn) prison on a charge he had sex with a 14-year-old boy.

The Post-Standard reports Sunday that Dr. James D'Agostino was arrested Feb. 16 and charged in the Phnom Penh municipal court with purchasing child prostitution.

A judge says the 56-year-old D'Agostino could be held up to six months while the court reviews the case before deciding if it goes to trial.

If convicted, D'Agostino could face seven to 15 years in prison under Cambodian law.

Pek Vannak, a lawyer representing D'Agostino, says the doctor denies the charges.

D'Agostino is a pediatric emergency doctor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He went to Cambodia in January 2009.
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Chong Sa-ngam border crossing closed after Thai-Cambodian clashes

SI SA KET, April 24 --- Si Sa Ket’s Chong Sa-ngam border crossing has been closed since Sunday’s noon for safety reasons after fresh Thai-Cambodian fighting reerupted in neighbouring Surin province in the morning, a local customs officer said, while border trade at Rong Kluea Market in Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district continued.

Trade and tourism along Thai-Cambodian border in Si Sa Ket province have been suspended, following the Sunday’s closure of Chong Sa-ngam border crossing after it had been opened for four hours in the morning.

Orawan Boonsang, a head of the customs officers at Chong Sa-ngam border crossing, explained that the closure was for safety reasons for Thai and Cambodian people after the sounds of gunfire was heard along the border in Surin.

Earlier, Chong Sa-ngam border crossing was temporarily closed on Friday (April 22), following the skirmish along Thai-Cambodian border in Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak district. Later, officers reopened the crossing for trade and tourism, depending on the situation.

Initially, it was projected that the closure of the Chong Sa-ngam border crossing will cause Bt10 million (over US$333,000) in losses.

Meanwhile, the Aranyaprathet border crossing in Sa Kaeo province remains opened on Sunday with ten thousand of Cambodian people flocking to Rong Kluea Market to buy commodity products back to their country.

Army Captain Chan Vongvaimathee, commander of ranger company 1206, under Burapha Task Force, said there is no reinforcement of Thai troops at the Thai-Cambodian border in Aranyaprathet district, but he has been instructed to closely monitor the situation and for troops to be on standby at their base.

10,000 Cambodians reportedly crossed into Rong Kluea Market for work and trading since the border crossing opened at 7am after the crossings in Surin and Buri Ram provinces were temporarily closed.

Tourists, both Thai and foreigners, also continued travelling to Cambodia's Poi Pet town in Banteay Meanchey province as usual, but about ten tour groups have already cancelled trips to Angkor Wat in Siem Riap. (MCOT online news)
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Cambodia, Vietnam sign investment contracts of nearly 1 bln USD

PHNOM PENH, Apr. 24, 2011 (Xinhua News Agency) -- Some 500 Cambodian and Vietnamese businessman met here on Sunday in the 2nd Cambodia- Vietnam conference and some investment projects worth nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars were signed.

The annual conference was chaired by the two countries' prime ministers.

Speaking in the conference, the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that to date, excluding the investment costs, which would be signed in the conference, Vietnamese investments in Cambodia have mounted to more than 2 billion U.S. dollars in the fields of telecommunication, aviation, banking and finance, mineral resources, and rubber plantations.

Cambodian investments in Vietnam have mounted to 51 million U.S. dollars.

Nguyen Tan Dung encouraged more Vietnamese investors to consider their ventures in Cambodia, and urged existing Vietnamese investors to strengthen and expand the investment to build closer economic cooperation.

Meanwhile, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Cambodia is implementing favorable investment policies for overseas investors.

"There are good opportunity for investors in growing rice, corn, cassava, bean, rubber industries," he said.

He also stressed the government has made its efforts to develop new industries such as car assembly plants, electronic manufacturing.
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Prayer breakfast hears horror of sexual slavery in Cambodia

By: Melissa Martin

IT was the eyes he couldn't forget, the piercing stares of seven Cambodian girls sold into sexual slavery, their abuse caught on tape by a Canadian pedophile.

So harrowing were the videotaped gazes that, after helping bust convicted sex tourist Donald Bakker in 2004, forensic expert Brian McConaghy left the RCMP and threw himself behind a singular cause: to help save as many children as possible from the nightmare of sex trafficking.

And to fight against an estimated $43-billion global scourge, McConaghy told around 800 religious, First Nations, government and community leaders at the Manitoba Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, takes faith.

"(Faith) is central to it," said McConaghy, who works with Ratanak International, which operates a safe-house for 59 children rescued from Cambodian trafficking rings. "It is the driving force. Trying to take on a battle like this, and do this on your own strength, is lunacy."

As the keynote speaker at the non-denominational Saturday morning event, which included VIPs such as Winnipeg police chief Keith McCaskill (who read from Bible scripture) and Winnipeg Catholic Archbishop James Weisgerber, McConaghy didn't shy from the ugly truths about sex trafficking in his tough, often tender speech.

McConaghy detailed the cycle of slavery, driven by teen pimps who were themselves sold into slavery as children.

"Twelve is old in Cambodia," he said, as a tense murmur rippled through the audience.

"In Cambodia, they start at age six."

That was the blunt tone that the prayer breakfast's honorary chairwoman, Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith, was hoping for when she asked McConaghy to deliver the keynote at this year's breakfast. "Now that you know, you can't say you don't know. Now we have to do something about it," said Smith, who championed a 2008 bill that raised the minimum sentence for criminals convicted of trafficking children.

Indeed, after Archbishop Weisgerber offered the breakfast's closing prayer at 9:30 a.m., MLA Bill Blaikie called McConaghy's speech a "call to arms."

After the breakfast, Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans stood with Smith and McConaghy to call for more awareness about how sex trafficking has impacted the aboriginal community.

The sex trade is linked to the fate of many of Canada's almost 600 missing or murdered aboriginal women. As an RCMP officer, McConaghy helped close the net on Robert Pickton, many of whose victims were aboriginal.

"The more people talk about it, the more people know about it," Evans said. "We will be more conscious of our surroundings. We will start to see the signs. And we will report."

Remember those eyes, the eyes of the seven girls that haunted him right out of his RCMP career and into a life of healing?

McConaghy still sees them. He last saw them two weeks ago when he took Bakker's seven victims -- now thriving teenagers in Ratanak's programs -- out to lunch in Phnom Penh. "I have things to learn about faith from these children," McConaghy said, before the crowd bowed their heads in prayer.
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UN chief calls for ceasefire between Cambodia, Thailand

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Cambodia and Thailand Saturday to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate measures to achieve a ceasefire.

Ban was troubled by reports of renewed fighting in the past two days between Cambodian and Thai troops along the two countries' border. The fighting has reportedly claimed numerous lives from both sides, according to a statement issued by Ban's spokesman.

"The secretary-general ... also believes that the dispute cannot be resolved by military means and urges Cambodia and Thailand to engage in serious dialogue to find a lasting solution," the statement said.

Ban had been encouraged by initial signs of progress in strengthening bilateral mechanisms to deal with the dispute between the two neighbors, it said.

This is the second consecutive day of military clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops in the disputed border area after Friday's clashes that cost at least 6 lives and injured over a dozen, forcing thousands of both sides' locals to flee home.

The latest violence occurred two months after a deadly clash on Feb. 4-7 at the disputed border area next to the World Heritage site Preah Vihear temple, an age-old row between Thailand and Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cambodia says king to miss British royal wedding

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni cannot attend the wedding of Britain's Prince William, Phnom Penh's foreign ministry said Saturday, but denied he had ignored the invitation.

British daily The Sun had reported that King Sihamoni was the only one of and estimated 40 foreign royals invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29 not to reply.

"His Majesty the King already responded to the invitation on April 8," Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told AFP.

"Due to his royal work, the king is unable to attend the royal wedding," he added.

A worldwide television audience of two billion people is set to watch the event live while crowds of hundreds of thousands are expected to line the route from London's Westminster Abbey to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds.

King Sihamoni, 57, is currently in China for a medical checkup.

His father, former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk, was one of Asia's longest-serving monarchs, but abruptly abdicated in 2004 in favour of his son, citing old age and health problems.

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Cambodian, Thai armed clashes force 5,000 Cambodian villagers flee home

PHNOM PENH, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Two straight days of armed clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops over the disputed border areas have forced 1,420 Cambodian families to flee their home for safe shelter, said a senior government official on Saturday.

As of Saturday at 4:00 p.m., 1,420 families with 5,000 people have been evacuated to a safe shelter in Banteay Meanchey province' s Samrong district, some 30 kilometers from the fighting zone, Nhim Vanda, the first vice-president of the Cambodian National Committee for Disaster Management, said on Saturday.

The two straight days of armed clashes on Friday and Saturday broke out at the Ta Mon Thom temple and Ta Krabey temple in Oddar Meanchey province, left troops on both sides killed and injured, the temples were in damage and villagers' properties were destroyed.

In the villages near the fighting areas, Cambodian soldiers have found shrapnel and craters resulted from the artillery shelling by Thai troops during the clashes.

Cambodia's Ministry of Defense on Saturday afternoon issued a statement to condemn Thailand for its "repeated deliberate acts of aggression against Cambodia."

"Thai side used DK 75 and 105 mm heavy guns loaded with poisonous gas in today's (April 23, 2011) assault," it said. "Thai military aircraft, including reconnaissance planes flew deep into Cambodia's airspace."

"Heavy weapons, including 130 mm, 105 mm and 155 mm artilleries have also been used during this latest military onslaught," the statement said.

The latest military clashes between the two countries'troops reoccurred just more than two months after the deadly clash on Feb. 4-7 at the border disputed area next to the Preah Vihear temple, a World Heritage Site.

Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as a World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Just a week after the enlistment, Cambodia and Thailand have had a border conflict due to Thai claim of the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the temple, triggering a military build-up along the border, and periodic clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers have resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.

Meanwhile, Indonesia, as current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), strongly called for the immediate cessation of hostilities between Cambodia and Thailand that recommenced since April 22, a press statement said on Saturday.

"Indonesia also calls for the two sides to continue to resolve their differences through peaceful means as has been reflected in addressing the border dispute between the two countries," said Kusuma Habir, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry.

She said that Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is in communication with his Cambodian and Thailand counterparts to address this latest development.
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Thai, Cambodia fighting leaves 7 dead in two days

By Tang Chhin Sothy Tang Chhin Sothy

SAMRONG, Cambodia (AFP) – Heavy fighting erupted again Saturday on the Thai-Cambodia border, leaving seven soldiers dead in two days -- the worst bloodshed since a UN appeal in February for a permanent ceasefire.

AFP- Cambodia soldiers prepared a BM21 Rocket Launcher near
 Thai-Cambodia border in Oddar Meanchey Province
The two neighbours have fought a series of deadly gun battles in recent years in disputed jungle near ancient temples along the frontier, which has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines.
One Thai soldier died in Saturday's fighting and several others were injured, according to a Thai military source, a day after three troops were killed on each side and more than a dozen injured.

The Cambodian defence ministry accused Thailand of using 75mm and 105mm "heavy guns loaded with poisonous gas", but gave no further details and the claim could not be independently verified. The Thai army denied allegation.

In its statement, the Cambodian defence ministry said Thailand was invading its territory "using ground troops and many types of artillery" and said its civilians were in danger.

Thousands of villagers have evacuated from nearby areas on both sides following the latest flare-up of violence.

"Most of the people in my village have fled their homes because many Thai artillery shells landed nearby," 29-year-old farmer Has Pov told AFP at a pagoda complex where he took refugee with his wife and two children in the Cambodian town of Samrong about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the fighting.

"I'm really scared by the shelling," he added.

Thailand recently admitted using controversial Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions during the February fighting but insisted it did not classify them as cluster munitions.

As usual, the two countries accused each other of starting the latest clash, which appeared to have abated after several hours Saturday.

"All of sudden they fired at us," Thai Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon told AFP.

"It could be that they wanted to internationalise the situation to attract a third country (to intervene). We do not want to fight but have to retaliate when they fire at us," he said, calling for the resumption of bilateral talks to resolve the territorial dispute.

"We have to put pressure on them to go back to the meeting table," he said.

The fighting resumed at about 6 am (2300 GMT Friday) with rifle fire and shelling in the same area as Friday's deadly standoff, according to spokesmen on both sides.

It is the first serious outbreak of hostilities since February when 10 people were killed in clashes near the 900-year-old Hindu temple Preah Vihear, prompting UN Security Council members to call for a lasting ceasefire.

Phnom Penh has called for outside mediation to help end the standoff, but Thailand opposes third-party intervention.

The two countries agreed in late February to allow Indonesian observers in the area near Preah Vihear, but the Thai military has since said they are not welcome and they have yet to be deployed.

The latest standoff, which saw more than six hours of fighting on Friday, took place near a different group of temples over 100 kilometres away from Preah Vihear.

Indonesia, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, has called for an immediate end to the violence. Vietnam urged "maximum restraint."

Ties between the neighbours have been strained since Preah Vihear -- the most celebrated example of ancient Khmer architecture outside Cambodia's Angkor -- was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6 square kilometre (1.8 square mile) surrounding area.
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