Friday, October 3, 2008

Cambodian, Thai troops said hurt in border clash

By SOPHENG CHEANG 

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Soldiers from both Cambodia and Thailand were wounded Friday in a brief clash along their volatile border, officials from the two countries said.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said a Cambodian soldier was slightly wounded when Thai troops fired a grenade from their territory. He said Cambodian troops returned fire, with the "military incident" lasting less than a minute.

Thai officials initially denied knowledge of the incident, but a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman later said Cambodian troops had encroached on Thai territory and had been the first to fire, wounding two Thai troops.

Tensions along the normally peaceful border between Cambodia and Thailand flared on July 15 after UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's application to have a disputed 11th century temple named a World Heritage Site. Friday's clash took place about two miles west of the temple, Preah Vihear.

A spokesman for Cambodia's Cabinet, Phay Siphan, said the incident began after Cambodian troops intercepted a trespassing Thai patrol. He said the Thai troops retreated in response to a warning from the Cambodians, but then fired the grenade.

Cambodian troops returned fire with AK-47 assault rifles, with the exchange of fire lasting three to five minutes, he said.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said Friday evening that the Thai troops had been patrolling in their own territory when they encountered the Cambodian soldiers.

"The Cambodian troops shot at the Thai troops first, wounding two soldiers. One Cambodian soldier was also wounded after the Thais responded," he said.

Lt. Gen. Wiboonsak Ngeepan, the regional army commander for northeastern Thailand, said it was unclear if the Cambodians intruded intentionally or had strayed into Thailand because "the area is dense forest."

Both countries have long claimed Preah Vihear, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

After UNESCO approved the temple's listing as a World Heritage Site, Thailand sent troops to occupy the nearby Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, also claimed by Cambodia.

Cambodia responded with its own troop deployment. The two sides came close to a shootout on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

Troops on both sides raised their weapons, but no shots were fired, and the Cambodians eventually backed down.

Since then there has been a limited troop withdrawal from the area, and talks have been held several times on resolving the conflicting claims, but without much progress.

Before Friday's clash was reported, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters that he and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat would travel to Cambodia on Oct. 13 to discuss the border issue with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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