Friday, April 03, 2009
By SOPHENG CHEANG
Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said four Thai soldiers were killed and 10 captured during the two clashes. Thailand's Foreign Ministry insisted only one Thai soldier was killed, seven were injured and none was taken prisoner, while two Thai army officers, who refused to be named, said two soldiers were killed and 10 injured.
The clashes occurred several hours apart near the same border location.
"The fighting has stopped. Commanders from both sides are talking," Maj. Nou Sarath, a Cambodian soldier at the border, told The Associated Press.
The fighting is the latest flare-up near the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple, which is on the Cambodian side of an ill-defined border that has been a source of conflict for decades. Two clashes last year sparked brief concerns of war.
In the first round of fighting Friday, Cambodia fired on some 60 Thai soldiers after they entered Cambodian territory, sparking a battle that lasted about 10 minutes, said Yim Kheang, a Cambodian soldier at the border. Officials from both sides said there were no injuries.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the clash started when Thai soldiers arrived to investigate the site where one of their colleagues had his leg blown off by a land mine on Thursday. As they approached the area, Cambodian soldiers opened fire, he said.
Thailand and Cambodia have long had competing claims to land surrounding the temple, which the World Court awarded to Cambodia in 1962. Tensions flared last July after UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have the temple named a World Heritage Site. Both sides deployed troops.
Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan downplayed Friday morning's clash.
"It was an accident, a misunderstanding among officials on the ground, which is common when you are closely positioned," he told reporters in Bangkok.
In the second clash, Cambodians insisted that Thai soldiers shot rocket-propelled grenades into their territory. Tharit denied the allegation. A Cambodian market near the border was set fire by a Thai rocket but the market was empty so there were no casualties, Cambodian soldiers said.
"The Cambodians started firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifles at us," Tharit said. "That led to several casualties on our side."
On Thursday, a Thai soldier in the area lost his leg after stepping on a land mine, but Thai and Cambodian military officials disagreed over which side of the border he was on at the time.
Cambodia and Thailand share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, much of which has never been clearly demarcated because the countries refer to different maps.
Tharit called on both sides to "exercise utmost restraint and not use any force."
"We ask them to go back to the negotiating table," he said, referring to border negotiations that are to resume at the end of the month.