Monday, February 07, 2011

Fighting on Thai-Cambodia border enters 4th day

Thousands of people are reported to have fled their homes on both sides of the border between Cambodia and Thailand after continued fighting that has lasted four days and left several soldiers dead.

Each country accuses the other of encroaching on its territory and of firing first. Cambodia says the Thais started shooting four days ago, but an unnamed Thai military source said it had been "a misunderstanding". However, an unnamed commander told Cambodia's PRU news agency that Thailand was to blame for the latest skirmishes. "The Thai army began shooting at us first, we are taking self- defense and retaliatory measures, now," the commander said.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters his country "has a clear policy that we will not invade any country". Meanwhile the
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has called for a peaceful solution, but warned that Thai soldiers would always defend Thai sovereignty if attacked.

An international court ruled in 1962 said that the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, but the surrounding area is claimed by both sides. In 2008, Cambodia was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for the temple, which further angered Thailand.

The most recent tension was sparked last week, when a Cambodian court sentenced two members of a Thai nationalist movement to up to eight years in prison after finding them guilty of espionage. The two were among seven Thai politicians and activists charged with illegal entry by Cambodia after crossing into a disputed border area in December.

In late January there were calls by Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for Cambodia to remove their flag from the disputed Keo Sikha Kiri Svara temple [AsiaNewsNet]. Cambodia responded by asserting its sovereign right to the area and quoted several signed treaties including the Franco-Siam Convention of 1904 and the Treaty of 1907 which it says shows clear lines of demarcation [Press releases: PDF / PDF].

Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), known as the "yellow-shirts", have been staging protests in the Thai capital Bangkok, urging the government to take a tougher line over the border issue.

Artillery and machine gun fire was heard around the 11th-Century Preah Vihear temple on Monday. Cambodia says has already been damaged in the fighting. "A wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment," a commander based near the 900-year-old temple was quoted as saying by Cambodia's Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PRU) of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

But there are also reports of deaths and casualties on both sides. The two countries' media has reported differing casualty figures though it is believed at least five people were killed in clashes over the weekend and thousands of civilians have fled the area. Two soldiers and a civilian from Cambodia are said to have been killed as well as one Thai soldier and a Thai civilian. Cambodia claimed that 32 of their soldiers had been killed, Chinese television reports said. About 15,000 villagers fled their homes and are now staying at five temporary shelters according to Thai media reports. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on both sides to "exercise maximum restraint".

The events of the last few days have not been reported as widely in the west due to the ongoing unrest in Egypt. However the fighting has made headlines in Asia. The events topped the news agenda on China's domestic news broadcaster CCTV-4 and Xinhua also carried the story as its main headline on both its English and Chinese sites [other reports: BBC / CNN / Al Jazeera / France 24MCOT (Thai state news agency - Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand) / AKP (Agence Kampuchea Press) / NHK (Japan) / Xinhua].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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