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Thai soldiers killed as border temple battle flares

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, April 3, 2009 | 3:55 PM


Saturday Apr 04, 2009
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent (New Zealand)


Intense fighting involving machine guns and rocket launchers broke out on the border between Cambodia and Thailand yesterday as an old dispute over an 11th-century temple flared up. Up to four Thai soldiers were killed; others may have been taken hostage.
A Cambodian government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said that in addition to the four fatalities, 10 Thai troops had been seized after two separate clashes. But Thailand said just one soldier was killed and seven injured, and that none had been taken.

The fighting is the latest violence to break out near the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple. It is located on the Cambodian side of an ill-defined border that has led to conflict between the two neighbours for several decades.

The intensity of clashes in the area last year prompted fears the two countries could go to war.

Reports said that in the first round of fighting yesterday morning, Cambodian forces fired at about 60 Thai soldiers after they crossed the border. The ensuing firefight lasted about 10 minutes but there were no casualties.

In the second clash, Cambodia insisted that Thai soldiers fired rocket-propelled grenades into their territory, but Thailand's foreign ministry spokesman, Tharit Charungvat, denied the claim.

He also said the initial clash took place when Thai soldiers arrived to investigate the site where a land mine had blown the leg off one of their colleagues on Thursday. He said that as they approached the area, Cambodian soldiers had opened fire.

The border area around the Khmer-era temple has long been the subject of disputes. In 1962, the temple, used as recently as 10 years ago as a hide-out by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice.

Tensions flared again last July after Unesco announced that it was awarding the temple World Heritage Site status. Cambodia hopes the new award will encourage tourism in a part of the country that is rarely visited by outsiders.

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

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

The Cambodia-Thailand Joint Border Committee will meet again tomorrow for three days of talks in the town of Siem Reap, located next to the ancient Angkor Wat site, to search for a solution to the ongoing row.

Even until recent years, the temple complex at Preah Vihear has had a strategic role. In 1975, it was used by troops loyal to the Cambodian government to make a last stand against the Khmer Rouge.

And in 1998, long after the Maoist fighters had been forced from power, the last remnants of their army holed up at the temple while ceasefire talks were held.

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