Preah Vihear: Thailand and Cambodia resume clashes along border
Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - After a night of relative calm, this morning armed clashes resumed between the Thai and Cambodian armies at the border area around the temple of Preah Vihear, a UNESCO world heritage site disputed by the two countries. At 8 am local time, troops began firing heavy artillery shells and bombs along the 4.6 sq km disputed border, the area is home to a 11th century Hindu temple, surrounded by a dense tropical forest.
The clashes in the area - the bloodiest since 2008 – erupted on February 4 with at least five dead and dozens wounded. The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has called for an urgent meeting of UN Security Council, accusing Thailand of "repeated acts of aggression" that has led to deaths and the collapse of a wing of the temple.
In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep concern" calling for a cease-fire and a "lasting solution" to the conflict. During the weekend, even the White House in Washington, issued a statement along the same lines.
The Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn replied that the country has no bellicose intentions and "does not want to invade any country”. The premier Abhisit Vejjajiva also calls for a peaceful solution, but warned that soldiers will defend national sovereignty if attacked.
However, the Thai prime minister is caught between two fires: on the international front, the border dispute with Cambodia. On the domestic front, the attack of the "yellow shirts", nationalists close to the army and the monarchy who had supported his rise to power two years ago. The movement is demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation and an iron fist against Phnom Penh.
Behind the skirmish with Cambodia, according to the "yellow shirts" is billionaire and former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in exile, accused of collusion with the Cambodian government in the past and promoter of street protests to topple the government and monarchy.
The border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh has been ongoing since 1962, when the International Court awarded the control of the ruins of the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear to Cambodia. The area where the temple stands is considered Cambodian territory, but is surrounded by steep cliffs covered with jungle that Thailand considers its own. In addition because of the morphology of the territory the site is impossible to reach through Cambodia.After years of negotiations, the dispute was rekindled in 2008 when UNESCO decided to transform the temple into a world heritage site, requiring that Bangkok allow it to be accessed through its borders. In recent years there have been several clashes between the two armies deployed near the site. The last was in April 2009 and cost the lives of four Thai soldiers.