x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cambodia calls on UN after more fighting near Thai border

Both sides blame the other for instigating each day's clashes, which centre on a disputed 11th century temple, as Cambodia asks for UN peacekeepers.

Villagers carry their belongings as they leave the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple at the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Thai and Cambodian troops clashed for a fourth straight day over a disputed border area surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.
Villagers carry their belongings as they leave the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple at the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Thai and Cambodian troops clashed for a fourth straight day over a disputed border area surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

PHNOM PENH // Cambodia called for UN peacekeepers to help to end the fighting along its border with Thailand, where artillery fire echoed for a fourth day yesterday near an 11th century temple classified as a World Heritage Site.

The crumbling stone temple, several hundred metres from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, has fuelled nationalism on both sides of the disputed frontier for decades and conflict over it has sparked sporadic, brief battles in recent years. However, sustained fighting has been rare.

A one-hour clash yesterday morning stopped after both sides agreed to an unofficial ceasefire. Fighting has erupted daily since Friday, leaving at least five dead.

Cambodian officials say a Thai artillery barrage on Sunday collapsed part of "a wing" at the Preah Vihear temple, a UN World Heritage site, but Thai officials have dismissed that account as propaganda. The extent of damage was unknown because it remained too dangerous to approach the temple, Cambodian authorities said.

Both sides blame the other for instigating each day's clashes, which have shattered a series of ceasefire agreements.

The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has warned that the fighting poses a threat to regional stability. He said the latest clash was sparked after Thai soldiers crossed the border in search of a slain comrade, and Cambodians opened fire to repel them.

He spoke yesterday during a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, reiterating calls from a day earlier for UN intervention to halt the fighting.

"We need the United Nations to send forces here and create a buffer zone to guarantee that there is no more fighting," Mr Hun Sen said, adding that the situation kept deteriorating and the two sides were no longer listening to each other.

Mr Hun Sen has sent a letter to the UN Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.

Thailand's foreign ministry sent its own letter to the Security Council yesterday to formally protest the "repeated and unprovoked armed attacks by Cambodian troops". In the past Thailand has ruled out foreign involvement in its dispute with Cambodia.

The Cambodian government spokesman, Phay Siphan, said skirmishes began again early yesterday after halting around midnight. Late on Sunday, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was "deeply concerned" by the fighting and urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint".

Singapore's foreign ministry voiced its concern in a statement yesterday and called for the two neighbours to negotiate for their own sake and "the broader interests of Asean".

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has long been a stable region, where the exchange of cross-border gunfire is highly unusual.

In 1962, the World Court determined that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. Thai nationalists dispute the ruling and have seized on it as a domestic political issue.

Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from the area near the temple.

At least one civilian and one soldier from Thailand and one civilian and two soldiers from Cambodia have died since the fighting began on Friday. On Sunday night, a Thai army spokesman said about 10 Thai soldiers were wounded.