Friday, 4 February 2011

Soldiers exchange fire along Thai-Cambodian border

Cambodian soldiers at the Preah Vihear temple

Gunfire has been exchanged by Cambodian and Thai soldiers on the afternoon of Friday 4th February.

The clash started just after 1500 local time near the disputed 4.6 square km around the base of the Preah Vihear temple. At least two Thai soldiers have been wounded according to the Bangkok Post, and it is not clear if there were any injuries on the Cambodian side.

Unsurprisingly, both sides blame the other for starting the clash. Thai Lt-Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, the second Army commander, said it was Cambodian troops who started the shooting. A Cambodian government spokesman, however, told the BBC that Thai soldiers had encroached upon Cambodian territory, and said a similar incident had only been narrowly avoided the day before.

The BBC reported that witnesses in the area said that Thai troops had attacked a Cambodian Buddhist pagoda in the border area.

Artillery shells have landed in Huay Thip village, north of the Preah Vihear temple and about 1km from Phu Makhua mountain, which is part of the disputed area.

Thailand's TNN TV news channel carried a live report from a villager in the area, who said a 50 year old man had been killed and others hurt by artillery shells which landed in his village, which is well inside Thai territory.

Tension has been on the rise between Thailand and Cambodia in recent weeks after a group of 7 Thai citizens were arrested and charged with illegally entering Thai territory. Two of the arrested are nationalist activists, and they have been convicted of espionage.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was in Cambodia on Friday holding talks with his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong to try to defuse tensions. They agreed to work to calm tensions over a dispute over the use of national flags in the disputed border region near Preah Vihear temple. They also pledged their commitment to efforts to the demarcation negotiations taking place through the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC).

Mr Kasit said he would visit Veera Somkwankid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, the two jailed activists to discuss what help could be provided by the government.

The 11th century Preah Vihear temple was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 International Court of Justice ruling. The 4.6sq km area around the base of the temple was not, however, ruled on, and has remained in dispute since. The temple became a world heritage site in 2008 under sole Cambodian ownership, an event which immediately sparked border clashes. The border situation has remained tense between the two neighbours ever since.

Sources: BBC News, Bangkok Post

For more information on the Thailand-Cambodia border dispute, see the Menas Associates website, here.

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