Thai-Cambodia clashes continue

Troops exchange fire for fourth straight day over disputed area surrounding ancient Hindu temple.



    Clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops over a disputed area surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple have continued for a fourth day across the frontier between the two countries.

    Shelling and machine gunfire echoed around the contested area on Monday around the ancient Preah Vihear temple claimed by both Southeast Asian neighbours, witnesses said.

    Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has called for "maximum restraint" to cease the hostilities, which have already left at least five people dead.

    These were the most deadly clashes since Preah Vihear was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008, a move that sparked sporadic skirmishes between the neighbours.

    The temple, which is surrounded by disputed territory, was damaged on Sunday by Thai artillery fire, according to Cambodia, which said one wing of the building had "collapsed" as a result.

    Thai officials, however, dismissed Cambodia's account as propaganda. The true extent of damage is unknown.

    Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, said skirmishes began again early on Monday after halting at around midnight.

    The country urged the UN security council to intervene in the fighting, with prime minister Hun Sen accusing Thailand of "repeated acts of aggression".

    But Thailand played down the reports of fresh fighting,  with a military source near the border describing the incident as a "misunderstanding", involving only small arms fire.

    UN concern

    Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that he was "deeply concerned" about the cross-border fighting.

    "The secretary-general appeals to both sides to put in place an effective arrangement for cessation of hostilities and to exercise maximum restraint," his office said in a statement.

    On Sunday, Wayne Hay, an Al Jazeera correspondent at the Thai-Cambodia border, reported seeing artillery fire streaming across the night sky, as well as ambulances heading towards the disputed area.

    Although sporadic clashes in the area are not unusual, it is rare for the two sides to fight over consecutive days.

    On Friday, there was intense two-hour fighting between the neighbouring forces, which left soldiers and a villager killed. On Saturday, troops fought with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, prompting residents to flee the area.

    Thailand and Cambodia both accuse the other of starting the ongoing clashes.

    The temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on land that forms a natural border and has been a source of tension for generations.

    The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962 but the ruling did not determine the ownership of the scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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