Border gunfight turns deadly; Thai soldiers imprisoned

Thai and Cambodian troops in a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple traded gunfire, killing two Cambodian soldiers. France 24 correspondent Cyril Payen is in Phnom Penh to cover the story as the standoff continues.


Read one explanation for the dispute from a FRANCE 24 Observer in Cambodia: Real reasons behind the clash between Cambodia and Thailand


A border dispute that has opposed Bangkok and Phnom Penh since 1962 is threatening to degenerate into a fully fledged war. During the past 48 hours, patrols at the border have alternated between standoff and confrontation, and both armies are sending reinforcements towards the northern border.


“The situation has gotten very tense, in particular since Wednesday morning,” says Cyril Payen, France 24 correspondent in Phnom Penh. The latest round of fighting was apparently triggered when a Cambodian soldier was killed after stepping on a landmine.


The conflict stems from a territorial dispute over Preah Vihear, a small strip of land that contains a Hindu temple claimed by both countries.


In Cambodia, hundreds of heavily armed soldiers with tanks have been sent to the zone in response to air incursions by Thai military jets. The conflict escalated rapidly; two Cambodian soldiers have died and several Thais were wounded in the conflict.


Yesterday, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat travelled to Phnom Penh for high-level peace talks, but these didn’t succeed in bringing about a lasting truce. Somchai told reporters he remained “confident that tensions will be resolved”, although he blamed the renewal of violence on Cambodia.


The conflict had been dormant for several years, but was re-ignited recently when the site was added to the UNESCO's protected World Heritage list at Cambodia's demand. Thailand saw the gesture as a threat to its claim of sovereignty over the zone.


“The conflict is regularly revived and exploited by politicians in both countries,” says Cyril Payen. “They use it as a tactic to divert attention from whatever may be going wrong in their country”.


Thailand has been grappling with a deep political crisis for weeks, with thousands of protesters gathering daily in the capital to demand the resignation of the prime minister. The government may be reviving the ghost of national sovereignty violation to appeal to citizens' patriotism and unite a divided country against a foreign threat.


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