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Cambodians, Thais point fingers over cross-border fight

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Each side accused the other of starting the latest shelling. The dispute involves the location of a temple.

February 6, 2011
New York Times

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the U.N. Security Council on Sunday to convene an urgent meeting to "stop Thailand's aggression" after a third day of cross-border shelling by both sides.

The Cambodian government said the shelling had damaged part of an 11th-century Hindu temple that is claimed by both nations and has been the focus of tension and periodic military clashes since 2008.

Each side accused the other of starting the latest fighting, which has claimed at least two lives and caused a number of injuries since it broke out Friday. No deaths were reported Sunday, but both sides said there were some injuries.

"Cambodians always open fire first," said Thai Army spokesman Col. Sansern Keowkamnderd. "We will cease fire when the Cambodians stop firing at us."

The Cambodian government also said Thai military aircraft had flown near the border, an escalation of previous encounters, but Sansern denied the report.

It was not clear how seriously the temple, Preah Vihear, had been damaged. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the temple was slightly damaged by shelling in the last serious clash a year ago.

"A wing of our Preah Vihear temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment," a Cambodian military commander was quoted as saying in a press statement.

The statement also quoted the unidentified commander as saying the Thai side had used "gas shells" as it fired artillery rounds at Cambodian soldiers, but it did not elaborate.

The dispute involves conflicting century-old maps and a ruling in 1962 by the International Court of Justice awarding the temple to Cambodia. New tensions were set off in July 2008 when UNESCO named the temple a World Heritage site and also placed it inside Cambodia.

Tensions along the border have become entwined in Thailand's political disputes, with the faction known as the yellow shirts accusing the government of failing to defend Thai sovereignty. The issue has become a rallying cry in recent weeks for the yellow shirts, who have begun a new sit-in near the prime minister's office, where they staged a blockade for more than six months in 2008.



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