>Thai-Cambodian clash wounds 3 near disputed temple

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Cambodian military police patrolling the Preah Vihear temple.

Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged fire briefly on Friday near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, wounding at least two Thai soldiers and one Cambodian, troop commanders of the two countries said.

Friday, 03 October 2008

Lieutenant General Viboonsak Neepan, head of the Thai eastern army, said his troops had fired warning shots into the air when 20 patrolling Cambodian soldiers entered Thai territory, but they returned fire, leading to a brief exchange.

“We have pushed them back into their side,” Viboonsak told Reuters by telephone shortly after the clash, which took place around 3 p.m. local time (0800 GMT).

“It is not clear if they intended to enter Thai territory since the area there is densely covered by trees,” he said, confirming that two Thai soldiers had been wounded.

It was the first clash since the two sides agreed in August to withdraw most of the 1,000 troops facing off for a month near the historic Hindu ruins that sit on the jungle-clad escarpment dividing the countries.

General Chea Mon, Cambodia’s military commander at Preah Vihear, said there had been “two short rounds of gunfire” at the border, and at least one Cambodian soldier was wounded.

“We don’t know why the Thais opened fire first,” Chea Mon told Reuters by telephone.

Foreign ministers of the two countries agreed in July to find a peaceful end to the diplomatic and military spat, centring on 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the temple, after protest groups seeking to overthrow the Thai government attacked Bangkok’s backing of Cambodia’s bid to list Preah Vihear as a U.N. World Heritage site.

Tensions have eased considerably since Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s victory in late July in a general election in which the temple, and nationalism, featured heavily.

Both sides have claimed Preah Vihear for decades. The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, and the ruling has rankled in Thailand ever since.

Reuters

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