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Thai-Cambodia border fighting ‘damages’ temple

Latest Breaking News: Cambodia accused Thailand of damaging an 11th-century temple in fresh clashes on Sunday and appealed to the United Nations to halt the “aggression” in the third day of cross-border fighting.

Cambodian soldiers look at a burned site near the Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, some 500 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh. -AFP Photo

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the United Nations Security Council to hold an urgent meeting “so as to stop Thailand’s aggression” which has “gravely threatened peace and stability in the region”.

But Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn rejected the accusation that his country was the aggressor, saying: “Thailand has clear policy that we will not invade any country.”

Thai army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said Sunday’s unrest was “more serious” than the previous two days of violence. He said about ten soldiers were injured, but that there were no reports of new deaths.

The ancient Preah Vihear temple, which is surrounded by disputed territory, was damaged by Thai artillery fire, according to Cambodia, which said one wing of the building had “collapsed” as a result.

Ties between the neighbours have been strained since Preah Vihear was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008. Thailand and Cambodia have each accused the other of starting the ongoing clashes.

Violence erupted on the border for the third day in a row on Sunday evening, ending a ceasefire agreed after earlier fighting left at least five people dead.

Hun Sen said “many” artillery shells had been fired into Preah Vihear temple on Sunday, in a statement addressed to the current president of the UN Security Council.

He said some shells fired by Thailand had landed around 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside Cambodian territory.

As the fighting raged on and spread to other border areas, Thai army spokesman Sunsern said both sides were in talks to negotiate a ceasefire.

Thai television showed images of bloodied soldiers and people being evacuated clutching blankets.

Thousands of people fled their homes as villages were evacuated on both sides of the frontier after the fighting first erupted on Friday.

Observers say the temple dispute had been used as a rallying point to stir nationalist sentiment in Thailand and Cambodia.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand and the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) area around the temple is claimed by both sides.

Cambodia said two of its soldiers and one civilian were killed in Friday’s fighting, while Thailand said a villager on its side of the border also died. — AFP

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