Image: Thai soldiers on a military truck
Rungroj Yongrit  /  EPA
Thai soldiers are taken to the front line in the disputed border area with Cambodia on Wednesday.
updated 10/15/2008 9:41:32 AM ET 2008-10-15T13:41:32

A gunfight broke out Wednesday between Thai and Cambodian troops at a disputed border zone near a landmark 11th-century temple, killing two Cambodian soldiers and escalating a conflict that has raised fears of war between the neighboring countries.

They were the first deaths in four months of fighting — the latest flare-up in a decades-long dispute over a contested stretch of jungle near the Preah Viheara temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over some surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Cambodian army commander Brig. Gen. Yim Pim said fighting had "paused" in the afternoon and commanders were trying to negotiate a cease-fire. Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said the two countries' foreign ministers were talking. Both sides said they wanted a peaceful resolution.

"Cambodia is a good neighbor. We will use peaceful means. If there is violence, we have to negotiate," he said.

The clash came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an ultimatum to Thailand to pull back its soldiers from the disputed territory.

Tensions flared anew on July 15 after UNESCO approved Cambodia's bid to have the Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site, sparking fears in Thailand that its claims over the nearby land would be undermined.

Cambodia deployed about 800 troops to the border after the UNESCO decision, and Thailand sent some 400 soldiers. Both sides pulled back most of their troops in late August, but the conflict flared again recently.

Both countries accused the other of firing first in Wednesday's clash. It was not immediately clear how many troops were involved.

10 Thai soldiers surrender
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said two of its soldiers were killed and two were wounded in fighting near temple that lasted less than an hour. Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd said five Thai soldiers were wounded.

Hor Namhong said 10 Thai soldiers has surrendered, were being well-treated, and would be returned to Thailand.

A Thai army spokesman said the military did not want to see the situation deteriorate further.

"The Thai army will defend itself but the army commander has emphasized that we will not react disproportionately, which may exacerbate the problem," said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd. "We have reinforced our troops but from an initial assessment, the army believes the situation is now under control."

Thailand's Foreign Ministry said it had prepared aircraft if an evacuation of Thai citizens in Cambodia was ordered.

"We are ready for an evacuation if necessary, but right now, there has been no order to evacuate," said ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat. He said there were about 1,000 Thais in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and 500 Thais in the city of Siem Reap.

Earlier Wednesday, Thailand put fighter jets on alert at air force bases nationwide and C-130 transport planes on standby at a base in the capital, Bangkok, that could evacuate Thais living in the border area "if the tension escalates to a military confrontation," Thai air force official Group Capt. Montol Satchukorn said.

"Our forces are on alert and ready to support the army's possible operations on the border," Montol told The Associated Press. "These are just precautionary measures. It's not that we are going to war."

Cambodia's deputy defense minister, Gen. Neang Phat, said, "We remain on alert and have readied our forces adequately to protect our territory."

A brief gunfight broke out between the sides earlier this month, with one Cambodian and two Thai soldiers wounded. Both sides claimed the other fired first and blamed each other for being on the wrong side of the border. Three days later, two Thai soldiers lost legs when they stepped on land mines in the area.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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