Thailand and Cambodia blame each other for the latest in a series of conflicts involving a contested temple. Officers of the two militaries meet to calm the situation after the deaths of three soldiers from each side.
By Simon Roughneen, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Bangkok, Thailand— Six soldiers were killed Friday, three from each side, in a dawn shootout between Thai and Cambodian troops along their nations’ tense border, officials from both sides said.The clash was the latest in a series of conflicts involving a contested temple and centuries of distrust.
Officers from the two militaries sat down Friday evening in a bid to ensure that the return of calm late in the day would continue. “The situation is now under control,” said Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, adding that he didn’t expect more fighting in the area
Shelling began about 6 a.m. along the frontier where Thailand’s Surin province faces Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia.
Both countries blamed each other for starting the clash. Thai soldiers trespassed into a temple inside Cambodia, Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement after the shooting. Cambodian soldiers shot first, Thailand countered, which prompted its army to return fire.
“We did not engage in any unusual movements in the area,” Panitan said.
Local residents fled after the shooting started. The welfare of civilians on both sides of the border should take precedence over the political agendas of the two nations, said Emma Leslie of the Phnom Penh-based Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, an activist group.
Friday’s clash was the first since early February, when at least 10 people were killed near a centuries-old Hindu temple called Preah Vihear, in an area that has been tense for decades.
Thailand and Cambodia have fought several wars over the centuries for regional clout.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that Preah Vihear was located inside Cambodia. The religious complex was built by the same Khmer Empire that constructed Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure, located in northwestern Cambodia.
Thai nationalists dispute that decision, however, and tensions worsened after the site was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 2008.
During the February fighting, Thailand was accused of using cluster bombs, which are banned by over 100 countries because of the risk they pose to civilians when the tiny bombs initially fail to explode.
Both countries are members of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The organization is currently headed by Indonesia, whose foreign minister, Marty Natelagawa, has tried to mediate between the two countries. Thailand has resisted Indonesia’s offer to send monitors to the border region.
Natelagawa called on both sides Friday to resolve their differences through dialogue. “The use of force has no place in relations among ASEAN member countries,” he said.
Roughneen is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Mark Magnier contributed to this report.
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