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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Fresh clashes at Thai-Cambodia border: Cambodia PM

By Suy Se Suy Se



PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Troops from Thailand and Cambodia clashed Monday for a fourth straight day, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said, as tensions again surged in a border dispute that has left at least five people dead. "The firing has started for the fourth time," Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony in the capital. A Cambodian military commander who did not wish to be named said both sides traded fire just after 8:00 am (0100 GMT). He was unable to say what kind of weapons were involved.

News of the fresh fighting follows accusations by Cambodia that claim Thailand damaged an 11th-century temple during recent military attacks and has appealed to the United Nations to halt the "aggression".

The Cambodian premier had earlier urged the United Nations Security Council to hold an urgent meeting "so as to stop Thailand's aggression" which has "gravely threatened peace and stability in the region".

But Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn rejected the accusation that his country was the aggressor, saying: "Thailand has clear policy that we will not invade any country."

The ancient Preah Vihear temple, which is surrounded by disputed territory, was damaged by Thai artillery fire on Sunday, according to Cambodia, which said one wing of the building had "collapsed" as a result.

Ties between the neighbours have been strained since Preah Vihear was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008. Thailand and Cambodia have each accused the other of starting the ongoing clashes.

Violence had erupted for the third day in a row on Sunday, ending a ceasefire agreed after earlier fighting.

Hun Sen said "many" artillery shells had been fired into Preah Vihear temple on Sunday, in a statement addressed to the current president of the UN Security Council.

He said some shells fired by Thailand had landed around 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside Cambodian territory.

Thai television showed images of bloodied soldiers and people being evacuated clutching blankets.

Thousands of people fled their homes as villages were evacuated on both sides of the frontier after the fighting first erupted on Friday.

Observers say the temple dispute had been used as a rallying point to stir nationalist sentiment in Thailand and Cambodia.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand and the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) area around the temple is claimed by both sides.

Cambodia said two of its soldiers and one civilian were killed in Friday's fighting, while Thailand said a villager on its side of the border also died.

A Thai soldier was killed in a brief resumption of hostilities on Saturday morning.

The media in both countries have said the toll could be much higher, however, with Thai newspapers suggesting 64 Cambodian soldiers were killed. Across the border, it was reported that at least 30 Thai troops had died.

Tensions have flared in recent weeks in the wake of the arrest of seven Thai nationals for illegal entry into Cambodia in late December.

Two of them were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case that has caused outrage among the nationalist "Yellow Shirts".

Around 5,000 "Yellow Shirts", an influential force in Thailand's colour-coded politics, gathered outside the government compound in Bangkok on Saturday calling for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's resignation.

It has been suggested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could move to mediate in the row and sources in the Cambodian foreign ministry have said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa will visit the country on Monday.

Indonesia is the current chairman of ASEAN.

But the subject of the meeting is unknown and Abhisit on Sunday dismissed ASEAN intervention as "unnecessary".

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Cambodia Urges UN Action After Accusing Thai Army of Damaging Hindu Temple

By Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an urgent meeting after accusing Thailand of damaging an 11th century Hindu temple in a “full-scale armed aggression.”

The attack last night followed a breakdown in ceasefire talks after three days of gun battles at the UN World Heritage Site that killed at least two soldiers. Thailand said Cambodia started the three hours of fighting by firing artillery shells, rockets and bullets across the border.

“Cambodia initiated the fighting, so it’s their responsibility now whether they want to return to the negotiating table,” Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said by phone today from Bangkok.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia soured in 2008 when a Thai court ordered a government linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to withdraw support for Cambodia’s bid to list the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site. Gun battles in the area since 2008 have killed at least eight soldiers and prompted civilians to flee the area.

“This fresh onslaught by Thai armed forces has resulted in more human casualties and damages to the temple of Preah Vihear as well as other properties,” Hun Sen said in the letter addressed yesterday to UN Security Council President Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti.

As many as 12 Thai soldiers and two villagers were injured in last night’s clashes, Sansern said. The border situation “has eased” since then, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said today.

‘Trying to Coordinate’

“We want the situation to be resolved as soon as possible,” Panitan said in an interview broadcast on Money Channel today. “We are trying to coordinate with them, but it will take some time as we already had agreements and Cambodia broke them.”

Thailand’s $264 billion economy is more than 26 times the size of Cambodia’s. The Cambodian army spent $123 million in 2008, compared with $4.1 billion for the military in Thailand, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said before the clashes yesterday that the army acted to protect the country and wouldn’t invade Cambodia. He condemned the shelling of civilians and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

“We will solve the border issue with peaceful methods,” he said. “This is the right way to benefit people and solve the problems for the long term.”

Yellow Shirts

The flare-up comes as about 2,500 yellow-shirted Thai nationalists blocked a Bangkok street for a second week to pressure Abhisit to take tougher measures against Cambodia in a border dispute. They are demanding that Thailand drop out of the UN World Heritage Committee, cancel a 2000 agreement with Cambodia on border negotiations and urge Cambodians to withdraw from disputed border areas.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled in a 9-3 vote that Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. The court didn’t rule on the disputed land near the temple.

“A wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment,” Cambodia said in a statement yesterday, citing an unidentified military commander based near the border. In Thailand, the temple is known as Phra Viharn.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net .

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net
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Cambodia UNESCO Site Hit in Border Clash


By AP / THANYARAT DOKSONE and SOPHENG CHEANG

Cambodian soldiers rest at the Preah Vihear temple, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday, February 5, 2011


(PHNOM PENH, Cambodia) — The Cambodian government said part of a historic 11th-century stone temple collapsed Sunday due to heavy shelling by the Thai army as the two sides battled across their disputed border for a third day.

Both countries accused each other of instigating the clashes, which continued across the darkened mountainous border for more than three hours Sunday. The extent of the damage to the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was not immediately clear.
(Read about the most recent eruption of fighting.)

A Thai army spokesman said about 10 soldiers were wounded in Sunday night's fighting. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the clashes Sunday resulted in "more human casualties and damages" but did not elaborate.

On Sunday, Hun Sen sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.

At least five people have died in the border clashes — some of the fiercest in years — which erupted Friday and continued for a third straight day Sunday despite at least two cease-fires.

The crumbling stone temple, which sits several hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, has fueled nationalist sentiment on both sides of the disputed frontier for decades.

In 1962, the World Court determined that the temple belongs to Cambodia, a ruling disputed by many Thais. Thai nationalists have seized on it as a domestic political issue, and the conflict has sparked sporadic, brief battles between the two neighbors over the last few years.

The lastest fighting broke out Friday in an area close to Preah Vihear, and shelling Saturday caused minor damage to the temple's facade. There were reports that Sunday's fighting had spread closer to the temple itself. There was no independent confirmation of the damage.

"A wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment," the government quoted a Cambodian military commander based near the temple as saying. It did not say how large the wing was.
(See a photo essay over the border dispute.)

Built between the 9th and 11th centuries, Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu diety Shiva and revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire — the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. It sits atop a 1,722-foot (525-meter) cliff in the Dangrek Mountains about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of the Cambodian capital.

UNESCO calls the site "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture." The Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia. The country was plunged into civil war, and the temple fell into disrepair.

Hun Sen said the latest fighting "gravely threatened peace and stability in the region."

"Thai armed forces launched a full-scale armed aggression against Cambodia, using heavy sophisticated weapons including many ... artillery shells which were fired into the temple of Preah Vihear," Hun Sen said in a letter which was read aloud on state television shortly before midnight.

Thailand accused Cambodia of firing first on Sunday and denied knowledge of damage to Preah Vihear.

"I haven't received any report about the damage and doubt it is true," said Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, contacted by telephone from Bangkok. He dismissed reports of damage to the temple as "propaganda," but said Sunday's fighting was more intense than the previous two days.

"We have to return fire to wherever the attacks come from," he said. "The prime minister has told the army to open all communication channels in case the other side wants to talk. Meanwhile, we have to take self-defense and react accordingly."

Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from the area near the temple.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called earlier Sunday for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.

"I insist that the dispute on the border issues must be solved through nonviolent means," Abhisit said in his weekly address to the nation. "Thailand never thought of invading anyone, but if our sovereignty is violated, we have to protect it ultimately."

Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone, Todd Pitman and Jocelyn Gecker also contributed to this report.
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Fighting between Thailand and Cambodia resumes at disputed border despite cease-fire

BANGKOK — Fighting erupted Sunday between soldiers along Cambodia's disputed border with Thailand near an 11th century temple for a third day, shattering a shaky cease-fire.

A Cambodian soldier at the front line, Lt. Pen Song, said troops exchanged artillery and mortar fire along the Phnom Troap mountain range, about 3 kilometers from the historic Preah Vihear temple, a U.N. World Heritage Site that belongs to Cambodia under a 1962 World Court ruling disputed by many Thais.

A Thai official in the border area, Nakorn Siripanyanant, confirmed that clashes had resumed Sunday evening and said some villagers who had returned to their homes were again evacuated.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The renewed fighting started just hours after commanders stationed on both sides of the border met Sunday afternoon and said they would continue to respect a Saturday cease-fire and pledges not to deploy more troops to the area.

The fiercest border clashes in years erupted Friday and Saturday between troops along the border. Sporadic artillery fire in those clashes left at least five people dead — one civilian and one soldier from Thailand and one civilian and two soldiers from Cambodia.

Both sides have blamed each other for the fighting, which also caused minor damage to the Preah Vihear temple near a strip of disputed land that Thai nationalists have seized on as a domestic political issue.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhsit Vejjajiva called earlier Sunday for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.

"I insist that the dispute on the border issues must be solved through nonviolent means," Abhisit Vejjajvia said in his weekly Sunday address to the nation. "Thailand never thought of invading anyone, but if our sovereignty is violated, we have to protect it ultimately."

Tensions between the Southeast Asian nations have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from land near the Preah Vihear temple.

Sopheng Cheang reported from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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