Thai and Cambodian troops clashed for a fourth straight day yesterday over a disputed border area surrounding a 900-year-old mountaintop temple, deepening political uncertainty in Bangkok and prompting Cambodia to urge UN intervention.
Several hours of shelling and machine gun fire subsided at about 11am, creating an uneasy peace in the 4.6km2 contested area around the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple claimed by both Southeast Asian countries.
Both sides blame the other for sparking clashes that have killed at least two Thais and three Cambodians since Friday and unleashed nationalist passions in Bangkok, energizing “Yellow Shirt” protesters demanding Thailand’s government step down.
Reasons behind the fighting remain murky.
Some analysts reckon hawkish Thai generals and nationalist allies may be trying to topple Thailand’s government or even create a pretext to stage another coup and cancel elections expected this year.
Others say it may be a simple breakdown in communication channels at a time of strained relations over Cambodia’s flying of a national flag in the disputed area and laying of a stone tablet inscribed with: “This is Cambodia.”
In Phum Saron, an evacuated village in Thailand’s Si Sa Ket Province where Cambodian artillery struck several homes and a school on Sunday, Thai soldiers guarded buildings and said it was unclear if more fighting loomed.
The Thai government said 30 Thai soldiers and four villagers had been wounded so far. Cambodia said 10 of its troops were wounded.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the UN Security Council to convene an urgent meeting, accusing Thailand of “repeated acts of aggression” that have killed Cambodians and caused a wing of the temple to collapse.
In a speech in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen directly addressed his Thai counterpart.
“We will go to the UN Security Council whether you like it or not,” he said during a university graduation ceremony, calling on the UN to deploy peacekeeping troops to the area.
“The armed clash is threatening regional security,” he said.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wrote to the UN Security Council accusing Cambodia of starting the fighting by opening fire at a Thai military post at Phat Ma Khua village on Friday and again in the same area on Sunday.
“Thai soldiers had no choice, but to exercise the inherent right of self defense,” Abhisit said.