By Sopheng Cheang
Associated Press / February 8, 2011
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thailand accused Cambodia of refusing to negotiate to resolve a border dispute that led to the fourth straight day of fierce clashes yesterday, as Phnom Penh said that only UN peacekeepers can stop the fighting near an 11th century temple.
Cambodia says the crumbling stone temple — classified as a World Heritage site — has been heavily damaged during several bursts of artillery fire over four days.
The exchange of cross-border fire is highly unusual among members of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and has raised tensions in a region known for its stability.
Preah Vihear temple — which is in northern Cambodia, several hundred feet from the border with Thailand — has fueled nationalism in both countries for decades, and conflict over it has sparked battles in recent years. A one-hour clash yesterday morning stopped after both sides agreed to an unofficial cease-fire. Fighting has erupted daily since Friday, leaving at least seven dead and dozens wounded.
In 1962, the World Court determined that the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia. Thai nationalists have never accepted that ruling.
In recent months, Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has come under intense criticism from ultranationalist groups who say he has shown weakness in his dealings with Cambodia and hasn’t done enough to protect Thailand’s sovereignty in the border dispute.
The fighting comes as those groups stage a prolonged protest outside Abhisit’s offices in Bangkok to demand that he step down over the border issue and a litany of other complaints.