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Two killed, several hurt in Preah Vihear clashes

Two killed, several hurt in Preah Vihear clashes

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Three Thai troops missing, 10 captured, RCAF commanders say after diplomacy fails and border dispute turns violent; foreign embassies urge restraint on both sides

Photo by: AFP

A Cambodian soldier examines the body of a comrade killed in fighting near Preah Vihear temple Wednesday.

TWO Cambodian soldiers were killed and at least two others wounded in heavy fighting near Preah Vihear temple Wednesday that also wounded five Thai troops, as a standoff over disputed border territory that has simmered since July erupted in violence.

At least three separate clashes broke out in more than two hours of fighting, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh after an emergency meeting with foreign diplomats, adding that Cambodia would not hesitate to defend its sovereignty against future aggression.

"We have been patient for a long time ... of course we'll continue to be patient, but at the same time we have the right to defend our country," he said.

Cambodia's ambassador to the United Nations will inform the UN Security Council about the fighting, he added, while diplomats present at the briefing said they hoped the dispute could be resolved through talks rather than bloodshed.

"We've been watching the situation with concern.... It is our hope that both sides will continue to show restraint," said Piper Campbell, charge d' affaires at the US embassy.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry accused Thailand of increasing its troop presence at several points along the border, saying Cambodia "strongly protests against these repeated and very serious armed provocations by Thailand, which would lead to large-scale armed hostilities". 

The two sides battered each other with rockets and automatic weapons around Veal Antri, the scene of a clash earlier this month between troops, military commanders said, adding that a Thai helicopter also fired on Cambodian lines.

Dangerous escalation

"This is very serious," said General Chea Saran, deputy commander of infantry operating on the frontier between the two countries.

Tensions have been building in the area since Thai troops reportedly crossed the border into Cambodia in July, shortly after Preah Vihear temple was designated a Unesco World Heritage site, sparking anger from Thai nationalists who claim the monument belongs to Thailand.

Several rounds of crisis talks, the most recent occurring on Monday between Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat and Hor Namhong, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, have failed to find a solution.

Soldiers from both sides engaged in a brief firefight at Veal Antri on October 3, wounding three troops. Two days later, two Thai soldiers were badly wounded when they stepped on land mines while patrolling near the Cambodian front lines.

Following Monday's negotiations, Hun Sen threatened to turn the border into a "battle zone" if Thai troops did not leave Cambodia. Cambodian commanders said Tuesday that Thailand withdrew its soldiers - a claim that was disputed by Bangkok.

Ten Thai troops near Preah Vihear temple were captured during the clash, military officials said, adding that they would not be released until Thailand withdrew all its troops from the area around the 11th-century ruins.

"Now these soldiers are in our hands. We've taken their weapons from them and are keeping them in one place," Chea Saran said. "Now we are negotiating with the Thai military over their release."

Military commanders had earlier reported Thai tanks and heavy artillery being moved to the border as tensions rose.

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