Monday, October 6, 2008

October 5, 2008; Thailand says Cambodia fired first in border clash

BANGKOK - Thailand accused Cambodia on Sunday of firing the first shots in a border incident in which three soldiers were wounded, saying it was "a brutal and aggressive act" that had violated friendly relations.

In a letter to the Cambodian government, Thailand's foreign ministry demanded Phnom Penh ensure there is no repeat of the incident near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

"The shooting by the Cambodian troops against the unarmed Thai paramilitary rangers is regarded as a brutal and aggressive act and is contrary to the spirit of friendly relations between Cambodia and Thailand," the letter said.

Cambodia issued a similar protest on Saturday, accusing Thailand of "intentional armed provocation" and warning it could lead to conflict.

Two Thai soldiers and one Cambodian soldier were injured in what was the first clash in the disputed territory since the two countries agreed to pull back troops in August after a tense month-long stand-off.

Each country has accused the other of encroaching on its territory.

Foreign ministers of the often fractious southeast Asian neighbours agreed in July to find a peaceful end to the diplomatic and military spat, which centres on 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the temple.

Both sides have claimed Preah Vihear for decades. The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962 and the ruling has rankled in Thailand ever since.

The row earlier this year was sparked by protesters seeking to overthrow the Thai government, who attacked Bangkok's backing of Cambodia's bid to list Preah Vihear as a United Nations World Heritage site.

Political elements on both sides fuelled the conflict for their own ends, but tensions eased considerably after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's victory in a general election in late July in which the temple, and nationalism, featured heavily.

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