Thailand, Cambodia clash 2nd day; toll rises to 10

Both sides have evacuated villagers and accused each other of firing first.

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011, 15:54 PM IST

Phnom Penh: Thai and Cambodian troops fired shells and small arms across the countries` border on Saturday, killing at least 10 soldiers in a two-day clash.

The fighting with mostly long-distance shelling, resumed about 6 am after a nighttime lull and halted by noon, both countries said. Cambodia also accused the Thai army of firing shells with poison gas, an allegation that could not be independently verified and that Thailand rejected.

Friday`s fighting was the first reported border clash since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near Cambodia`s Preah Vihear temple. The new clashes took place about 100 miles (160 kilometres) west of there.

A Cambodian Defence Ministry statement on Saturday accused Thailand of seeking to seize two ancient temples and said Thai aircraft supported the attacks, including reconnaissance planes that "flew deep into Cambodia`s airspace”.

The statement also said Thailand had fired 75 and 105 mm shells "loaded with poisonous gas" into Cambodian territory, but did not elaborate.

A Cambodian field commander charged that Thailand used both cluster shells — anti-personnel weapons banned by many countries — and "poison smoke" that caused several soldiers who inhaled it to lose strength in their arms and legs, but did not kill anyone.

Colonel Suos Sothea, deputy commander of the artillery unit, said by phone the six rounds of cluster shells had landed in villages about 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside Cambodia, but caused no casualties since people had already been evacuated.

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of small grenades or `bomblets` that scatter over vast areas. Some can lie dormant for decades until disturbed, endangering civilians.

Thailand acknowledged using cluster-type munitions in February`s fighting but argued that they were not of the type banned from use by 108 countries under an international treaty. Thailand has not signed the pact but has publicly pledged not to use such weapons.

Colonel Tawatchai Samutsakorn, commander of Thailand`s 2nd Army Region, denied absolutely that cluster bombs or poison gas had been employed by his forces in the new fighting this week.

Tawatchai said one Thai soldier died on Saturday, bringing the two-day casualty toll to four dead and 17 wounded. He said 15,000 civilians had been evacuated from the area of fighting.

Cambodia`s Suos Sothea said three soldiers from his country had been killed Saturday, bringing Cambodia two-day death toll to six. He said he could not give an accurate count of the wounded. Six Cambodian soldiers were reported wounded on Friday.

The countries have decades-old competing claims over small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fuelling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thai objections.

Indonesia, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has called for an immediate ceasefire and further efforts to resolve the border dispute.

The flare-up comes as the Thai military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of a general election expected to be held by early July. The Army had previously effectively vetoed an agreed-on plan to station Indonesian observers to monitor the border situation.

Bureau Report