Thailand and Cambodia yesterday negotiated an end to deadly fighting on their border, both armies said, after at least four people were killed in clashes near a disputed temple.
“Thailand and Cambodia have agreed on a ceasefire and both sides will not reinforce their troops,” Thai army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said after military commanders from both sides met for talks in a border town.
A Cambodian general also confirmed the end to hostilities, but added that the “situation right now is still tense.”
One Thai soldier was killed in brief morning skirmishes near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, following two hours of heavy fighting on Friday that left a Cambodian soldier and a Thai civilian dead. Military sources said a Cambodian civilian who made a living photographing tourists at the temple had also been killed in Friday’s clash, although the Cambodian government declined to confirm this.
Reports from the border suggested four captured Thai soldiers were returned following the ceasefire talks. Both sides have reported injured troops.
Thousands of people fled the border area on Friday, as villages were evacuated on both sides after fighting between the neighbors erupted for the first time in more than a year when simmering border tensions boiled over.
Both countries have accused the other of starting the latest violence and using heavy weapons such as mortars, rockets and artillery.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has written to the UN to draw its attention to the “explosive situation at the border.”
Blaming the fighting on “flagrant aggression” by Thai troops, he said “Cambodian troops had no option but to retaliate in self-defense” in a letter addressed to UN Security Council President Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. He did not explicitly call for UN intervention.
Thailand, which convened an urgent meeting yesterday afternoon, has said it was also considering filing a complaint to the UN.
The US urged both sides to exercise “maximum restraint.”
Thailand has accused Cambodia of shelling a village, while Cambodia said Thai armed forces had fired artillery shells about 20km inside Cambodian territory.
Cambodia said the fighting had caused “serious” damage to the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008, straining ties between the neighbors.
The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand and the 4.6km2 area around the temple is claimed by both sides.
The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.
The two countries have been talking tough on the border issue, which some observers say serves nationalist goals at home on both sides.
Tensions have flared in recent weeks in the wake of the arrest of seven Thai nationals for illegal entry into Cambodia in late December.
Two of them were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case that has caused outrage among Thailand’s influential nationalist “Yellow Shirts.”
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the Yellows, who were expected to step up a protest outside Government House in Bangkok yesterday, had worsened the conflict.
“A very small group of Yellow Shirts are determined to keep tensions with Cambodia on the boil,” said Michael Montesano, of the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore.