Thousands of Thais flee fighting on border with Cambodia

Monday, February 7, 2011

BANGKOK/PHNOM PENH - Thousands of Thai civilians Monday fled fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops in an intensified border dispute that has raised calls for international intervention.

Renewed fighting broke out Sunday evening in Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province and Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province, about 450 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.

Fourteen Thai soldiers and two villagers were injured, Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Keowkhamnerd said.

The fighting has forced 15,000 Thais to flee their homes, Si Sa Ket Governior Somsak Suwansujalit said.

The fighting, which started Friday, has killed two on the Thai side - one soldier and one civilian - and injured 31.

Cambodian sources said their side has suffered three dead: two soldiers and one civilian. Both governments claimed the other side started the fighting.

“Thailand will keep shooting as long as the Cambodians are shooting at us,” Sansern said.

On Saturday, Cambodia sent a letter to the UN Security Council warning that the situation was “explosive” and blaming “flagrant aggression” by Thailand.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, which is the current chairman of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), was scheduled to visit Cambodia Monday to seek a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict involving two of ASEAN’s members.

After Phnom Penh, Natalegawa is to visit Bangkok Tuesday.

“The deteriorating situation along the Thai-Cambodian border is undermining confidence in ASEAN and affecting economic recovery, tourism and investment prospects in the region,” Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, said in a message to Cambodia and Thailand over the weekend.

“This violent conflict must be brought under control and the two parties must return to the negotiating table soonest,” Surin said.

To date, Thailand has insisted the border dispute should be settled between it and Cambodia.

“Thailand still maintains that the issue is best handled bilaterally though existing mechanisms,” Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.

On Saturday, the two governments had agreed to reconvene the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee, which was set up in 2001 to handle a long festering dispute over sovereignty claims to the area around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, perched on a cliff on the border.

The temple, which is called Phra Viharn in Thai, has been a bone of contention between the two countries for more than a half-century.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the site to Cambodia but did not rule on a nearby plot of land, also claimed by both countries. In July 2008, the temple was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites.

The border is yet to be demarcated.

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