Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23, 2011; Fighting on Thailand and Cambodia border kills 4 soldiers

A second day of fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops on Saturday killed at least four soldiers, bringing the two-day death toll to 11, the worst bloodshed since the United Nations called for a ceasefire in February.

Thousands of villagers have been evacuated from the disputed border area in thick jungles around the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, about 150 km (93 miles) west of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple which saw a deadly four-day standoff in February.

Thai army Lieutenant-General Thawatchai Samutsakorn said one Thai soldier had been killed. A local hospital said 13 were wounded.

Suos Sothea, deputy commander of Cambodia's artillery unit in the area, said three Cambodian soldiers had been killed and 11 wounded, bringing the two-day toll of wounded on both sides to at least 43.

The Cambodia Defense Ministry condemned "these repeated deliberate acts of aggression" and called on Thailand to cease "hostilities." It accused Thailand of firing cluster munitions - anti-personnel weapons banned by many countries -- and 75 and 105 mm shells "loaded with poisonous gas."

Thai Foreign affairs Minister Kasit Piromya denied those charges as "groundless."

Sovereignty over the ancient, stone-walled Hindu temples -- Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey -- and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.

Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, perched on a 10-meter (32-ft) escarpment about 12 km (seven miles) apart in land mine-riddled terrain, were built in the 12th century when the Khmer empire stretched across parts of Thailand and Vietnam before shrinking to just present-day Cambodia.

Thailand says the two temples reside in its Surin province according to a 1947 map. Cambodia rejects that and says they are in its Oddar Meanchey province. Before Friday, they jointly patrolled the area largely without incident.

"It came as a big surprise, we weren't ready," said 57-year-old Suwat Thathong, who fled with his wife and three children to a refugee camp in the Thai village of Prasat, about 40 km (25 miles) from the fighting.

A Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary has yet to settle the border issue despite a 10-year survey of the area. Meanwhile, the temples have fallen into disrepair. In 2008, Thailand accused Cambodia of turning them into an army base.


The latest clash began before dawn west of Ta Krabey and lasted about five hours, a day after clashes in the area killed four Thai and three Cambodian soldiers.

Both sides blame each other for starting the fighting, the most severe since three Thais and eight Cambodians were killed and dozens of people wounded over February 4-7 in the bloodiest border clashes in nearly two decades.

As part of a ceasefire deal, Thailand and Cambodia agreed on February 22 to allow unarmed military observers from Indonesia to be posted along their border.

"We are calling for Cambodian leaders to return to the negotiable table," said Kasit, the Thai foreign minister. On Friday, he said the international community had no place in the matter, responding to a letter from Cambodia addressed to ASEAN stating Thailand had staged "a large-scale attack."

Thailand and Cambodia have been locked in a standoff since July 2008, when Preah Vihear was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand opposed on the grounds that the land around the temple had never been demarcated.

An international court awarded the temple to Cambodia 49 years ago but both countries lay claim to a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) patch of land around it.

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