Published: 3/04/2009 at 10:30 AM
Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged gunfire briefly on Friday in a disputed area on their border, a Thai official said, raising tensions that erupted into a deadly clash last year.
The exchange of shots occurred about 7.10am after Cambodian soldiers went to investigate the area where a Thai soldier stepped on a landmine on Thursday and lost a leg, Si Sa Ket governor Seni Chittakasem said.
“There is no report of loss (of life) on the Thai side and it’s ended now,” he said.
The trouble flared one kilometre inside the disputed territory, the governor said.
A Cambodian soldier stationed at the border said the gunfire had further raised tensions between troops, but disputed that Thai soldiers had fired any shots.
“A group of Thai soldiers this morning entered Cambodian territory and Cambodian troops opened fire,” Yeim Kheang told AFP by telephone.
“The situation is now tense… the Thai troops did not fire back,” he said.
Thailand’s foreign ministry immediately accused Cambodia of violating its sovereignty and said it would be sending a note of protest to authorities in Phnom Penh.
“We had to retaliate because Cambodians opened fire at Thai soldiers first. We want to reiterate that this area is our territory,” ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from Cambodian authorities.
The landmine incident a day earlier had put Cambodian troops on “high alert” he said, two days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Thailand there would be fighting if its troops crossed their disputed frontier.
Tensions over the long-disputed territory flared in July last year after the 11th century Preah Vihear temple at the border was granted Unesco World Heritage status. Troops clashed in the area in October and four soldiers died.
Subsequent talks between Cambodia and Thailand have not resolved the dispute.
The border between the two countries has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.
Two Khmer soldiers killed in border clashes
Published: 3/04/2009 at 02:51 PM
Two Cambodian soldiers were killed in a gunfight with Thai troops on the disputed area near Preah Vihear temple, a Cambodian government spokesman said Friday afternoon.
Cambodian commander Bun Thean told AFP that shots had been fired between troops in a number of spots near the ancient temple on the border, which has not been fully demarcated.
Thailand foreign ministry spokesman, Tharit Charungvat later confirmed the clash, but said fighting had since ended with no Thai casualties.
Tensions had been raised since an exchange of shots early in the morning after Cambodian soldiers went to investigate the spot where a Thai soldier stepped on a landmine on Thursday and lost his leg.
Thai and Cambodian government officials both accused the other of violating its sovereignty and of triggering the gunfire, which left no reported injuries.
Tensions flared along the border in July last year after the 11th century Khmer temple there was granted United Nations world heritage status. Soldiers clashed in the area in October, leaving four troops dead.
Cambodian troops said they were placed on “high alert” after the landmine incident, two days after their premier Hun Sen warned Thailand that it would face fighting if its troops crossed their disputed frontier.
Troops from Thailand and Cambodia have exchanged heavy gunfire in a disputed border area, officials say.
It was the second exchange of fire on Friday near the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, which has been the scene of sporadic clashes in recent months.
Officials could not confirm a report that two Cambodian soldiers had died.
A Cambodian spokesman said troops first opened fire when Thai soldiers entered their territory. A Thai official called it a “misunderstanding”.
The BBC’s Guy Delauney in Phnom Penh says the clashes come just days ahead of fresh talks between the two sides.
The Cambodia-Thailand Joint Border Committee is expected to hold three days of talks over the dispute in the Cambodian resort town of Siem Reap, starting on Sunday.
The first, brief exchange of fire took place early on Friday.
“The armed clash began when Thai soldiers entered Cambodian territory. We fired rockets at the Thai soldiers,” Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters news agency.
TEMPLE DISPUTE TIMELINE
1962: International court awards temple to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains undesignated
1970s-1990s: Khmer Rouge guerrillas occupy site
2001-2002: Thai troops block access over water row
July 2008: Unesco lists temple as a World Heritage Site
July 2008: Thai FM quits after court rules he violated constitution for backing Cambodia’s Unesco bid
July 2008: Both sides move troops to temple area
Oct 2008: Troops exchange fire, leaving two Cambodian soldiers dead
Seni Chittakasem, governor of Sisaket province in Thailand, said the incident happened inside the disputed area.
“There is no report of loss [of life] on the Thai side and it’s ended now,” AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
The fighting appeared to have started after a Thai patrol visited the site where a Thai soldier was injured after stepping on a landmine on Thursday.
“After talks between the two sides failed, the Cambodian side started to walk away and turned back to open fire at Thai troops with rifles and RPG rockets, forcing the Thai side to fire back in self-defence,” said a statement from Thailand’s foreign ministry.
“It was an accident, a misunderstanding among officials on the ground, which is common when you are closely positioned,” said Thai Defense Minister Pravit Wongsuwan.
The second exchange reportedly involved the use of artillery.
Cambodian authorities said they could not confirm reports of two soldiers being killed. Thailand denied it had taken any casualties.
An international court awarded Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962, but the land surrounding it remains the subject of rival territorial claims.
Soldiers from the two countries have been stationed in the area since tensions increased in July last year. Two Cambodian soldiers were killed at the site in October in a gun battle.
Last week, Cambodia accused Thai troops of crossing over briefly into its territory.