Wed, Feb 09, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Thai-Cambodian border quiet after clashes

AFP, PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia, and PARIS

Cambodian soldiers carry dogs they found near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Cambodian and Thai troops held their fire along the tense border yesterday as the total death toll after four days of clashes near a disputed temple climbed to eight.

No new fighting has broken out since brief skirmishes early on Monday, but a Cambodian military commander stationed near the temple said the situation remained “tense.”

“We are still on alert,” said the commander, who did not wish to be named.

The latest fatality was a Thai soldier who died yesterday from injuries suffered during artillery shelling over the weekend.

The clashes, which first erupted on Friday, have now left five Cambodians and three Thais dead, including at least one civilian on each side.

Cambodia yesterday handed over to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh a Thai soldier captured in fighting on Saturday.

Thousands of families on both sides of the frontier have been -displaced by the recent violence.

Many have been forced to seek shelter in camps, schools and pagodas in villages away from the border as they wait for hostilities to end.

Phnom Penh says that Thai artillery fire has also damaged the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, which is at the center of the standoff.

Ties between the neighbors have been strained since Preah Vihear was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear, a 1,000-year-old Hindu temple, belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6km2 surrounding area.

A photographer on the scene said the temple grounds were littered with shrapnel and some temple walls appeared scarred by bullet marks.

He also described seeing what looked like blood stains on one of the stone pathways inside the temple complex and blackened trees dotting the surrounding landscape.

Both Thailand and Cambodia have written to the UN Security Council twice about the border unrest, with Bangkok accusing Phnom Penh of seeking the “internationalization” of the conflict.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that regional stability was at risk from what he described as “Thailand’s aggression.”

Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, who is the current president of the UN Security Council, said its members would be willing to meet to discuss the dispute.

The US again called on both sides “to exercise maximum restraint,” in comments echoed by the EU, Malaysia and Vietnam.

US Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that Washington was “undecided” on whether the UN should be involved, after Cambodia called for urgent action by the UN Security Council.

Hun Sen has asked for UN troops to be sent to the area to create a “buffer zone.”

Meanwhile, world heritage body UNESCO is sending an urgent mission to examine Preah Vihear, it said yesterday.

“I intend to send a mission to the area as soon as possible to assess the state of the temple,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement.

Bokova’s statement called for “calm and restraint” around the temple, which it said had suffered “damage” during recent days of fighting.

Built on a cliff in the 11th century to honor the Hindu god Shiva, Preah Vihear is the most celebrated example of ancient Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia’s renowned Angkor Wat.

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