One dead in Cambodian-Thai border skirmish (Lead)

April 3rd, 2009 - 6:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Phnom Penh/Bangkok, April 3 (DPA) Cambodian and Thai soldiers fought a battle in a disputed border area Friday afternoon that resulted in at least one death after a milder skirmish between the South-East Asian neighbours in the morning, officials said.
One Thai soldier was killed and several injured when fighting erupted for the second time Friday near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple in the same area where a fatal skirmish erupted last year between the two countries, Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Tarit Charungvat said.

He denied unconfirmed reports from Cambodia that four Thai soldiers had been killed and would not comment on two reported deaths on the Cambodian side.

“Our army chief is trying to talk to the Cambodian chief and is calling for them to exercise the utmost restraint,” Tarit said. “We are asking them to return to the table for talks, which has been our position all along.”

The exchange of gunfire started when a team of soldiers went to investigate the planting of landmines in land west of the temple that is claimed by both countries after a Thai infantryman lost a leg Thursday when he stepped on a landmine.

“It seems that landmines were freshly planted in the area, which is against international calls for restraint in the use of landmines,” Tarit said. “It appears this was an intrusion by Cambodia into that area. Our troops did not fire first and have only acted to defend themselves.”

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan has accused the Thais of first crossing over the border at about 7.15 a.m. (0015 GMT), forcing Cambodian soldiers to confront them. The fighting occurred two days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that his soldiers would aggressively respond to any intrusion by Thai soldiers.

Earlier, the Thai army commander, General Anupong Paochinda, said the morning incident was a result of a “misunderstanding” and had no political meaning.

He said Hun Sen had accepted this explanation when Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan telephoned to explain that a Thai squad had entered the area to investigate how the Thai soldier was wounded Thursday.

“Our moves in the area were made without any aggressive intentions,” Anupong said. “This was a misunderstanding between lower ranks. We regard the border situation as normal - at least not something that should lead to any clashes.”

A top Thai military commander held discussions at the border Friday with his Cambodian counterparts to defuse the tension, a Thai News Agency said.

Thai army spokeswoman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said the brief morning skirmish started when Thai soldiers where confronted by Cambodian troops 3 km west of the temple. The two sides talked at first, but the Cambodian side fired shots that triggered an exchange of fire lasting about 10 minutes, she said.

No Thai troops were hurt in the earlier clash, she said, while Phay Siphan said no one was hurt on the Cambodian side, either.

The border dispute escalated in July when clashes left two Cambodian soldiers dead and several Thais wounded shortly after UNESCO named the ancient Hindu Preah Vihear temple a World Heritage Site despite Thai objections.

The temple, the object of disputed claims between Thailand and Cambodia since the 1950s, was granted to Cambodia by a ruling of the International Court of Justice in 1962.

But land adjacent to the temple compound, including its main entrance on the Thai side, has been claimed by both countries. The two culturally similar countries often have prickly relations.

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