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Troops jittery after deadly Cambodia-Thai clash

Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, April 4, 2009 | 5:38 PM


4/04/2009
AFP

Tensions were high among troops on both sides of the disputed Cambodian-Thai border Saturday while Thai and Cambodia prime ministers played down gunbattles near a temple which left two soldiers dead.

Both sides were jittery after Friday's firefight, which was the biggest flare-up for months in a bitter feud over territory near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.
Thai troops fired into the air in the morning after a Cambodian soldier's rifle accidentally discharged several shots, Cambodian troops said, while a Cambodian commander could be heard telling his soldiers to hide behind trees.

"The situation at the border is quiet now and back to normal," Cambodian commander Yem Pem said, adding that troops were on "24-hour alert."

Soldiers exchanged rocket, machinegun and mortar fire Friday, damaging the staircase of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, following a brief skirmish earlier in the day, officials said.

One Thai soldier was killed and another died in hospital later, while 10 others were injured, said the Thai military. Cambodian officials reported no casualties.

A Thai military official said nine soldiers were still being treated in hospital, with two of them in critical condition.

Cambodia's foreign ministry said the violence damaged a government office and local market. Hundreds of Cambodians who lost their homes in the fighting were evacuated to a school 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.

"We were so frightened because the situation was so tense," said Chum Vanna, 27, who was evacuated with her husband and children.

"I'm very angry with the Thai soldiers. All of my belongings were completely burned. We came here with just a few clothes," she added.

The area saw several clashes last year after Cambodia received United Nations World Heritage status for the temple ruins in July. Four soldiers were killed in a firefight in October.

But Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart were keen to diffuse the latest crisis, both sides insisting usual border committee talks would proceed along with meetings scheduled at a key regional summit next week.

"It is normal that every side has the right to self-defence. If they come, it happens. And as we enter their territory they also have the right to fire at us," Hun Sen said during a visit to the southern province of Kampot.

"But we consider this (clash) an incident. I don't call it a war... We are very sorry. We don't want Cambodian or Thai soldiers to die," he added.

"I think (the talks) must go ahead," Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. "We don't want to see clashes and losses on either side."

Thai army chief General Anupong Paojinda said Cambodian and Thai officials were in talks to defuse the stand off.

"High level officials are talking to each other with good mutual understanding. There are no problems," he said.

Hun Sen and Abhisit are due to join a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations and key regional partners in Thailand from Friday.

Singapore, meanwhile, urged both sides to "exercise utmost restraint in the broader interests of the region."

Friday's clashes came three days after Hun Sen warned Thailand not to allow its troops to cross into disputed land. Bangkok denies claims that 100 soldiers went over the frontier a week ago.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads for decades over the site perched on a forested cliff overlooking green swathes of countryside.

The World Court in 1962 awarded the ruins to Cambodia, but the most accessible entrance is in Thailand, and some of the disputed land is yet to be demarcated.

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