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Thai, Cambodian troops clash near disputed temple

THAI and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rocket and small arms fire on a disputed stretch of their border today, the latest flare-up in a long-running feud over a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in a clash lasting nearly an hour at Eagle Field, near the Preah Vihear temple, which was at the centre of a military stand-off between the Southeast Asian neighbours last year.

There were no reports of wounded or dead. Thai and Cambodian military commanders on the border agreed to meet at midday to avoid further violence.

General Srey Doek, Cambodia's commander at the temple, said a Thai patrol crossed into Cambodian territory and opened fire on his men.

"The Thais fired rockets and rifles at us, and we responded in the same way," he told Reuters. Both sides agreed a ceasefire after their border commanders spoke by radio.

In Bangkok, Thai officials denied their troops had trod on Cambodian soil and accused the other side of shooting first.

"This was just a misunderstanding," Thai army chief Anupong Paochinda said.

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 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

The latest fighting erupted a day after a Thai soldier was badly wounded when he stepped on a landmine near the temple, where both sides have stationed troops since the armed clashes last year.


Tensions rose last month when 100 Thai troops crossed into a disputed area near the temple and were stopped by Cambodian soldiers, but no fighting occurred.

The border had been quiet for months while the Southeast Asian neighbours sought to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last October's exchange of rifle and rocket fire.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, warned this week that his soldiers would fight if Thai troops crossed the disputed border again.

The site is 600 km (370 miles) east of Bangkok and only a decade ago was controlled by remnants of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrilla army.

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 on Sunday for three days of talks in the Cambodian resort town of Siem Reap to try and find a solution to the row.


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