Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cambodia reports clash with Thai troops on border

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sopheng Cheang
Associated Press

Cambodian troops clashed Sunday with Thai soldiers near a temple that lies along a disputed part of their border and has been the scene of several deadly skirmishes in recent years, Cambodian military officials said.

Lt. Gen. Chea Tara, deputy armed forces commander and field commander for the area, said Cambodia suffered no casualties in the fighting in northern Cambodia, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Preah Vihear temple. He said the fighting began when Thai troops intruded into Cambodian territory.

Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat said there were two firefights lasting about five minutes each. He could not say if Thai forces suffered any casualties.

Thai military authorities could not immediately be reached for confirmation of the fighting in an area.

The Cambodian officers said the area was calm after the fighting, but that both countries were on alert.

The area has been a flashpoint since 2008, when Thai nationalists protested Cambodian efforts to have the 11th century Preah Vihear temple named a U.N. World Heritage site. They claimed the move could invalidate Thai claims to small parcels of nearby jungle area.

In 1962, the World Court awarded the temple and the land it is on to Cambodia, but sovereignty over adjacent areas has never been clearly resolved.

The issue is closely linked to Thailand's domestic politics because the 2008 protests about the temple were led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, a group which was seeking to unseat the Thai government then in power because of its links to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespecting constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The alliance raised the issue to stir up nationalist sentiment and attract support.

The furor caused both Thailand and Cambodia to reinforce their military positions in the area, and tensions have broken out into fighting on several occasions, leading to several deaths.

Relations between the two countries plunged further in November last year, when Cambodia named Thaksin an adviser on economic affairs. The appointment, and subsequent visits by Thaksin, set off a diplomatic row in which the two countries recalled their ambassadors. A Thai court in 2008 sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison on a corruption charge.

Cambodia has refused to extradite Thaksin.

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