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Cambodian, Thai troops clash over temple site

THAI and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rocket and rifle fire on a disputed stretch of their border yesterday, killing two Thais in the latest flare-up of an ancient feud over a 900-year-old temple.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in two separate clashes near the Preah Vihear temple, which is claimed by both Southeast Asian nations and saw an armed stand-off last year.

Two Thai soldiers were killed and six wounded in the fighting, the deputy commander of Thailand's Second Army, Lieutenant-General Thawatchai Samutsakorn, told Thai television.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said four Thais had died and another 10 Thai soldiers were being held by Cambodian troops.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry denied that any Thais had been captured during the morning or afternoon clashes.

"We believe that this incident arose from a misunderstanding in the area," Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat told reporters in Bangkok.

The latest fighting comes a day after a Thai soldier lost a leg when he stepped on a landmine in an area claimed by Thailand.

A Thai patrol visited the blast site early yesterday morning and encountered 20 Cambodian soldiers.

"After talks between the two sides failed, the Cambodian side started to walk away and turned back to open fire at Thai troops with rifles and RPG rockets, forcing the Thai side to fire back in self-defense," Thailand's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A second round of fighting erupted in the afternoon, with the two sides exchanging rife and rocket fire, and setting a market near the temple ablaze. There were no reports of civilian casualties.

Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 4.6 square kilometers of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Few foreign visitors go there, although both countries have said they would like to develop the area as a tourist destination.

The Cambodia-Thailand Joint Border Committee will meet again tomorrow for three days of talks in the Cambodian resort town of Siem Reap to try to find a solution to the row.


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