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Two killed in fighting as tension boils over

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October 16, 2008

Thailand-Cambodia Border Dispute:
Two killed in fighting as tension boils over
UN chief urges restraint

Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged fire along the border Wednesday, killing two Cambodian soldiers, officials said, as a dispute over land near an ancient temple turned deadly, reported AFP.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that two of his country's soldiers were killed and two others wounded in the clashes, which erupted sporadically for more than two hours before tapering off. Lieutenant General Wiboonsak Neeparn, the army commander for northeastern Thailand, said that five Thai troops were wounded.

Gunfights broke out in the afternoon in a number of small patches of disputed land just a few kilometres (miles) away from the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, an UN World Heritage site which is on Cambodian territory.

Cambodia and Thailand have been sparring over land near the temple since July, and tensions soared this week after talks on Monday failed and about 80 Thai troops entered a disputed area, enraging Cambodia.

After the fighting ended Wednesday, Cambodian and Thai officials traded barbs over who had started the violence.

"Thai troops entered our territory," Cambodian Brigadier Bun Thean told AFP at the scene, accusing Thailand of firing the first shot.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat insisted that the situation along the border had returned to normal, but said Bangkok would lodge a complaint with Phnom Penh.

"We are not the ones who ignited the violence," Somchai told reporters, but added that he was confident that the tensions would be resolved.

Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornviwat told AFP that he was ready to issue the order for all Thais to be evacuated from Cambodia if need be.

A Cambodian army official said that at least 10 Thai soldiers stationed in a disputed area had surrendered -- a claim denied by Wiboonsak.

Thai TV on Wednesday showed military trucks loaded with tanks heading toward the border and troops setting up mortars, while the Thai air force spokesman said before the clashes erupted that fighter jets were on stand-by.

In Phnom Penh, General Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the defence ministry, said there were enough Cambodian troops along the border "to protect our territorial integrity."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Cambodia and Thailand on Wednesday to exercise utmost restraint and settle their dispute through dialogue.

Ban said in a brief statement that the dispute over a temple at the joint border should be resolved peacefully following reports of gunfire and casualties.

Thai stocks fell 3.56 percent on Wednesday in the wake of the fighting as Thailand's foreign minister urged its nationals in Cambodia to leave as soon as possible.

At 0907 GMT, the main Thai stock index .SETI was down 3.56 percent at 482.93. Earlier it had been depressed by a decline on Wall Street, where fears of global recession outweighed the positive impact of bank bailouts.

The stand-off between the neighbours first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering some Thai nationalists who still claim ownership of the site.

The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the main disputed area.

Tensions flared again this week after failed talks on Monday aimed at cooling the months-long standoff.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen then issued an ultimatum to the Thai side after he accused more than 80 Thai soldiers of entering one of a handful of disputed areas -- telling Bangkok to leave or risk conflict.

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