Two dead in Thai-Cambodian border clash

Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged heavy fire on the two countries` shared border.

Phnom Penh: Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged heavy fire on the two countries` shared border on Friday killing one soldier and a civilian, as tensions between the neighbours boiled over.

One Cambodian soldier died in the skirmishes near the disputed ancient Preah Vihear temple, a Cambodian military commander on the scene who did not wish to be named told AFP by telephone.

A Thai villager was also killed by artillery shelling and five Thai soldiers were injured in the fighting, Thai public health minister Jurin Laksanawisit said.

Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Cambodian defence ministry, said that four Cambodian soldiers had been injured and four Thai soldiers had been captured in fighting that lasted for nearly three hours.

The area around the temple is claimed by both sides and Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Phnom Penh planned to complain to the United Nations over what it termed the "Thai invasion".

"We will lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council on Saturday," he said to a news agency, adding that Thai soldiers had fired artillery shells some 18 to 20 kilometres (11 to 12 miles) into Cambodian territory.

But Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon played down the significance of the incident. "We are negotiating now and I am sure that everything will be fine," he said.

Both Thailand and Cambodia accused the other of starting the fighting, the first since April 2009.

A Thai army official at the border said fighting broke out at 3.10pm local time (0810 GMT) at Phu Makuea, near the 11th-century temple.

Residents in several villages along both sides of the border have been evacuated, officials said.

Ties between the two countries have been strained since July 2008 by a series of deadly border clashes over land surrounding the temple after it was granted UN World Heritage status.

Both sides have been talking tough on the border issue, which some observers say serves nationalist goals at home on both sides.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand. The exact boundary through the surrounding grounds remains in dispute.

The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Another border spat has focused on the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, which is built in the disputed area. Thailand on Monday demanded that Cambodia remove its flag from the pagoda, which it said was "situated on Thai territory" -- a claim Cambodia vehemently rejects.

The fighting erupted just hours after Thailand`s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya held talks with his counterpart in Cambodia.

Tensions between the two countries have flared in recent weeks in the wake of the arrest of seven Thai nationals for illegal entry into Cambodia in late December.

Five of the group were given suspended sentences and have since returned to Thailand. The other two, high-profile nationalist activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case that has caused outrage among Thailand`s "Yellow Shirts".

Hundreds of Yellow Shirts have camped out around Government House in Bangkok since last week, demonstrating against its handling of the border dispute, and the group plans a larger rally on Saturday.

Yellow Shirts are a force to be reckoned with in Thailand`s colour-coded politics and have helped to claim the scalps of three governments in under five years, including that of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Bureau Report