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Asia

Thai-Cambodian border troops clash as UN Security Council urges "permanent ceasefire"

Thai and Cambodian troops clashed before dawn on Tuesday at a disputed stretch of border, a Thai army spokesman said, but a senior Cambodian military official has denied the report.

Cambodian troops near Preah Vihear temple where clashes between Thai-Cambodian troops are regularly reported

Cambodian troops near Preah Vihear temple where clashes between Thai-Cambodian troops are regularly reported

Thailand and Cambodia show no sign of overcoming their differences on how to end border disputes, with Bangkok reporting a new skirmish just hours after a UN appeal for a lasting ceasefire.

Thailand says one of its soldiers was wounded in the latest flare-up at the frontier early Tuesday but describes the incident as relatively insignificant. "It was a minor clash at the frontline with pistols, wounding one soldier on the Thai side," said Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, adding that the soldier was wounded by a grenade. A spokesman at a Thai hospital in the border area said the wounded soldier appeared to have stepped on a landmine.

The Cambodian government, however, said it was unaware of any clash between the two countries. A senior Cambodian army commander said there had been no fighting.

Thailand reported a new skirmish along its border with Cambodia, just hours after a UN appeal for a lasting ceasefire

Thailand reported a new skirmish along its border with Cambodia, just hours after a UN appeal for a lasting ceasefire

The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for a permanent ceasefire and urged both sides to show "maximum restraint".

No sign of bridging differences

Bangkok has urged Cambodia to return to the table for bilateral talks to settle the row centered on a 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, which erupted into four days of armed clashes earlier this month.

Soldiers resting at the ruins of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, where armed clashes earlier this month killed at least 11 people

Soldiers resting at the ruins of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, where armed clashes earlier this month killed at least 11 people

It left at least three Thais and eight Cambodians dead and led to thousands of people on both sides fleeing their homes. The two Southeast Asian neighbors blame each other for the crisis.

"If the international community thinks the problem should be solved through negotiation, Cambodia has no reason to refuse," said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. "They should return to the talks."

But Phnom Penh has rejected the call, insisting on the need for third-party mediation. "Bilateral negotiations do not work," said Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, who described a UN Security Council meeting on the matter as "a success" for his country.

"Cambodia's stance is to resolve the dispute peacefully," he said, but "all negotiations must always have the participation of a third party". He added: "What Cambodia wants is a permanent ceasefire."

While Cambodia won support for its calls for outside mediation to help end the standoff, the council did not endorse its request to deploy UN peacekeepers in the disputed area.

The Thai minister said there was no need for UN peacekeepers and the option had not been discussed in the Security Council session.

Bangkok has urged Cambodia to return to the table for bilateral talks, while Phnom Penh insists on the need for third-party mediation

Bangkok has urged Cambodia to return to the table for bilateral talks, while Phnom Penh insists on the need for third-party mediation

UN calls for a permanent ceasefire

In New York, UN Security Council members called for "maximum restraint" in the standoff.

"Members of the Security Council urge the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire and to implement it fully," said council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil after a closed-door meeting attended by foreign ministers of the two countries and Indonesia, which has tried to mediate in the dispute.

Viotti said the council supported mediation efforts by Indonesia. "The idea is to work in synergy with the regional efforts - and right now regional efforts are in full force - and resolve the situation peacefully and through effective dialogue," she said.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said he had not met his Cambodian counterpart one-on-one in New York, but there would be an opportunity to do so during a meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta on February 22.

He told Thai television that he had proposed a meeting on February 27 of a joint commission set up previously with Cambodia to try to resolve the border dispute. "We are ready to talk any day. It depends on Cambodia's decision," he said.

Thailand blames the border crisis on UNESCO's decision to declare the Preah Vihear temple ruins a World Heritage site even though the land surroudning it is disputed

Thailand blames the border crisis on UNESCO's decision to declare the Preah Vihear temple ruins a World Heritage site

The two sides are at odds over a border area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple that belongs to Cambodia. The temple was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO back in 2008.

Thailand blames the crisis on UNESCO's decision. Both countries claim sovereignty over the 4.6-square-kilometre land around the temple.

Author: Sherpem Sherpa (Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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