Fighting on border with Cambodia displaces 15,000 Thais

Fighting on border with Cambodia displaces 15,000 Thais

Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops broke out Monday in an ongoing border conflict that killed five over the weekend and forced 15,000 Thai civilians to flee their homes, dpa reported.

   In the fourth day of fighting, shelling began at 8:10 am (0110 GMT) near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said.

  The fighting has killed two on the Thai side - one soldier and one civilian - and injured 31 while forcing 15,000 Thai civilians to flee their homes in Si Sa Ket province, 450 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, Thai officials said.

   Cambodian sources said their side had suffered three dead: two soldiers and one civilian.

   Both governments claimed the other side started the fighting in the border area near Preah Vihear, which has been a bone of contention between the two countries for more than a half-century.

   Phay Siphan said a wall of the Hindu monument had been damaged by Thai artillery fire Sunday.

   "Thailand will keep shooting as long as the Cambodians are shooting at us," Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Keowkhamnerd said.

   On Saturday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter to the UN Security Council, claiming that Thai shells had fallen 20 kilometres inside Cambodia and damaged Preah Vihear.

   He called on the United Nations to convene an urgent meeting of the Security Council "to stop Thailand's aggression" and said the situation was "gravely threatening" the region's peace and stability.

   In response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Sunday on both sides to exercise restraint and resolve their dispute through dialogue.

   Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, which is the current chairman of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), was scheduled to visit Cambodia Monday to seek a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict involving two of ASEAN's members.

   After Phnom Penh, Natalegawa was to visit Bangkok Tuesday.

   To date, Thailand has insisted the border dispute should be settled between it and Cambodia.

   "Thailand still maintains that the issue is best handled bilaterally though existing mechanisms," Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.

   On Saturday, the two governments had agreed to reconvene the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee, which was set up in 2001 to handle a long festering dispute over sovereignty claims to the area around Preah Vihear, perched on a cliff on the border.

   Cambodia claims the current fighting is the result of Thai forces attempting to seize parts of the contested area.

   "Before they negotiate, they want to seize the ground," Phay Siphan said, referring to land that has not yet been demarcated between the two nations.

   Thousands of Thai and Cambodian troops have been stationed in the disputed area since mid-2008, making occasional clashes almost inevitable, observers said.

   In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia but did not rule on a nearby plot of land, also claimed by both countries. In July 2008, the temple was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites.

   The border is yet to be demarcated.

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