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Security Council ready to meet

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A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier sits at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple yesterday following four days of fighting with Thai troops stationed along the contentious border. 

The United Nations Security Council says it is willing to hold a meeting on the recent round of hostilities between Thailand and Cambodia following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call for UN peacekeepers to be deployed at the border.

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Brazilian ambassador who is now serving president of the Security Council, told journalists in New York on Monday that members of the council had “expressed great concern at the aggravation of tension on the border”, the AFP news agency reported.

“They called for a ceasefire and urged the parties to resolve the situation peacefully,” she said.

“They expressed their willingness to hold a Security Council meeting.”

There was no indication of when such a meeting might be held.

Regional governments and world powers including the United States and China have appealed for restraint in a conflict that has left at least eight people dead, including five Cambodians, and has displaced thousands of people on both sides of the border.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, visited Thai and Cambodian officials this week and said the regional bloc stands ready to “help create a climate conducive for resolution of the problem”.

Thai officials have consistently rejected third party mediation, saying the dispute can be resolved by the Joint Border Committee, the bilateral body through which the two countries are working to demarcate their shared border.

Tensions near Preah Vihear temple have been heightened since 2008, when it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia over Thai objections.

At least seven people had been killed in skirmishes between the two sides in the area in the past two and a half years prior to the most recent round of clashes.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An wrote on Monday to UNESCO director general Irina Bokova decrying “significant damages” to the temple as a result of Thai attacks and requesting that the body hold a meeting to address the issue.

“The objective [of the meeting] will be to organise the protection of the Temple of Preah Vihear which is in grave danger of total destruction by Thai armed forces,” Sok An wrote.

Bokova issued a statement on Sunday expressing “distress” at the clashes and calling for both sides to agree to a ceasefire for the sake of the temple’s preservation. UNESCO officials in Phnom Penh did not respond to requests for comment today.

Thai Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd rejected the Cambodian government’s reports of damage to the temple as “propaganda”, the Bangkok Post said today.

Any damage sustained by the site, he added, had resulted from Cambodian troops using it as “a heavy arms base to fire at Thai soldiers stationed in areas in Thai territory that were at lower elevation”.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs angrily rejected these comments in a statement today, labelling them “slanderous” and denying that Cambodian troops had operated from within the temple walls.

“There has never been and there will never be Cambodian soldiers at the TEMPLE OF PREAH VIHEAR,” the statement read.

Armed Cambodian troops could be seen milling about the temple today, however.

The temple’s staircases and exterior appeared to have been damaged by bullet and artillery fire, while vegetation in the surrounding area had been charred by explosions.

Following a series of skirmishes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers along the border in October 2008, UNESCO said in a 2009 report that the damage to the temple “appears relatively minor”.

“However, the continuous presence of troops around the property entails a risk of possible further incidents and hampers the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee for the strengthening of the protection and management of the World Heritage property,” UNESCO said in the report. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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