Thai and Cambodian troops clashed for a fourth straight day on Monday over a disputed border area surrounding a 900-year-old mountaintop temple as Cambodia urged the U.N. Security Council to intervene.
Shelling and machinegun fire resounded in the morning in the 4.6-sq-km (two-sq-mile) contested area around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on a escarpment covered in jungle and claimed by both Southeast Asian neighbors, witnesses said.
Fighting in the area killed at least five people on Friday and Saturday, the deadliest clashes since Cambodia's bid in 2008 to list the Hindu ruins as a World Heritage Site sparked sporadic exchanges of fire in the rugged area.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the Security Council to convene an urgent meeting, accusing Thailand of "repeated acts of aggression" that have killed Cambodians and caused a wing of the temple to collapse.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he was "deeply concerned" and urged both sides to cease fire and find a "lasting solution" to the dispute, echoing a similar statement by Washington over the weekend.
|A Cambodian soldier takes position behind a machine gun near Preah Vihear temple along the border with Thailand February 6, 2011|
The number of fatalities is unclear.
The Cambodian government has said three of its nationals, including two soldiers, have been killed.
Thai media say as many as 64 Cambodians died, quoting army sources. That could not be verified by witnesses contacted by Reuters in Cambodia.
The Thai army says a soldier and a villager were killed on Friday and Saturday and that at least 20 soldiers were wounded.
Thousands have fled villages on the Thai side and hundreds of Cambodians have been evacuated, with each side accusing the other of firing first and of infringing on its territory.
PROTESTERS SEEK THAI PM RESIGNATION
The dispute is unleashing nationalist passions and threatening to worsen long-running hostility between Thai political factions ahead of expected elections.
Pro-establishment Thai "yellow shirt" protesters, who helped to bring Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to power, have turned against him in recent weeks, demanding his resignation and calling for him to take a tougher line against Cambodia.
"I don't think this will look good for Abhisit's government, especially as we are heading toward elections," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"He has upset both the yellow shirts and Cambodia."
The yellow shirts accuse their main rival, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, of colluding with Cambodia against Thailand and have threatened mass protests to bring down Abhisit's government, stoking speculation they may invade government offices in a reprise of a prolonged 2008 protest.
National police chief General Wichien Pojphosri told reporters he would seek cabinet approval on Tuesday to impose the Internal Security Act to prevent a rally and to take back the areas occupied by yellow-shirt protesters. He did not elaborate.
Up to 4,000 gathered outside Abhisit's offices on Saturday and 1,500 on Sunday calling for his resignation.
The temple, known as Preah Vihear, or "Mountain of the Sacred Temple," in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on a triangular plateau that forms a natural border and has been a source of tension for generations.
Both sides have been locked in a standoff since July 2008, when Preah Vihear was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand opposed on grounds that territory around the temple had never been demarcated.
Thailand ruled much of northwestern Cambodia, including Preah Vihear, from the late 18th century until the early 20th century, when Cambodia's French colonial rulers forced the Thais back to the current international frontier.
The International Court of Justice in 1962 awarded the temple to Cambodia, which uses a French map drawn up a century ago, but the ruling did not determine ownership of the scrub next to it.