October 16, 2008
2 Killed on Thai-Cambodian Border
By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK — Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rocket and rifle fire for about an hour on Wednesday in a confrontation at their border over a disputed 900-year-old mountaintop temple, according to reports from the area. At least two Cambodian soldiers were killed, the Cambodian foreign minister said.
Several hundred soldiers from both sides have faced each other at the border since July, when Unesco, the United Nations agency, approved Cambodia’s request to have the temple named a World Heritage Site.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of Cambodia said two Cambodian soldiers had also been wounded. A spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry said seven Thai paramilitary soldiers were wounded. Ten Thai soldiers surrendered to the Cambodians, according to news reports in the capital, Phnom Penh.
The two nations have made claims for decades over the temple, Preah Vihear, which stands at the lip of an escarpment on the border looking out over the mountains of northern Cambodia.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia, based on a map prepared at the start of the century by colonial French rulers. Unesco placed the temple in Cambodia partly based on that map when it awarded Preah Vihear world heritage status.
As a result of the rising tensions, Thai officials said they had prepared aircraft to evacuate some 1,500 citizens living in Cambodia. Thai authorities ordered a similar evacuation in 2003 when Cambodians rioted in the capital in protest against Thailand, setting fire to Thai businesses and to the Thai Embassy.
That earlier violence also involved claims to a temple, in that case the crown jewel, Angkor Wat, which is well within the borders of Cambodia.
“Thai businessmen who have no need to be in Cambodia now, please rush back to Thailand,” Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat said Wednesday.
Thai nationals were reported to have huddled in a hotel in Phnom Penh for safety, uncertain if they should evacuate. Riot police were deployed outside the Thai Embassy.
Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia on Tuesday issued an ultimatum to about 80 Thai soldiers to withdraw from a portion of the temple area. His noon deadline passed, with the Cambodian side saying the Thais had retreated and the Thais saying there had been no troop movements.
“At any cost we will not allow Thai troops to invade this area,” Mr. Hun Sen said Tuesday. “I would like to be clear about this. It is a life-and-death battle zone.”
In an effort to ease tensions, the Thai and Cambodian regional military commanders were scheduled to hold talks Thursday. The fighting on Wednesday was not the first since the two sides have deployed soldiers at the temple. Early this month, one Cambodian and two Thais were reported wounded in an exchange of gunfire.
Three days later, two Thai soldiers lost legs when they stepped on some of the many thousands of land mines strewn through the area.
Thailand’s 300,000-strong military is far better equipped and trained than the Cambodian army, with F-16 fighter jets and Blackhawk helicopters. But Cambodian soldiers have been fighting in the area for decades and are hardened by guerrilla warfare.
The disputed temple was in the hands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas until a decade ago, when the movement collapsed, 19 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh. Many soldiers and commanders in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are former members of the Khmer Rouge.