Cambodia military leader to meet Thai counterpart

Both countries' military commanders agree to meet after a border gun battle left two Thai soldiers dead.

Cambodian soldiers stand guard during a fire fight with Thai soldiers near Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, some 543 kilometers north of Phnom Penh on October 15, 2008. Thai and Cambodian ceased hostilities on their disputed border October 15 more than two hours after gunfire broke out, according to the Cambodian army. The countries began exchanging fire at 2.20pm and finished at 4.40pm, Brigadier Hom Sam Ol told AFP -- although the time frame was disputed by Thailand. AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY *** Local Caption ***  487573-01-08.jpg
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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA // Cambodia says its regional military commander will meet with his Thai counterpart in talks to ease tensions after a border gun battle left at least two Cambodian soldiers dead. A statement from Cambodia's foreign ministry said the government "wishes to reiterate its firm commitment to exercise utmost restraint and to negotiate and work closely with Thailand to avoid large scale armed hostilities." The statement said the two sides' commanders would negotiate "in order to defuse the tension and resolve the current confrontation peacefully and amicably." The move came after fighting lasting about an hour in disputed territory near a landmark 11th-century temple. Thailand said five of its troops were wounded. The Cambodian foreign minister, Hor Namhong, said two of his country's soldiers were killed and two wounded in the clashes, which erupted sporadically for more than two hours before tapering off. Cambodia and Thailand have been sparring over the land since July and tensions mounted this week after talks on Monday failed and about 80 Thai troops entered a disputed area, enraging Cambodia. After the fighting ended today, Cambodian and Thai officials traded barbs over who had started the violence. "The gunfire between Cambodia and Thailand was in Cambodia's territory. Thai troops opened fire at our troops first," Hor Namhong said, before issuing a statement to the media addressing the Thai government. "Cambodia strongly protests against these repeated and very serious armed provocations by Thailand which would lead to large scale armed hostilities between the two countries," it said, announcing a complaint would be lodged with the UN Security Council. The Thai prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, said the situation along the border had returned to normal but added that Bangkok would lodge a complaint with Phnom Penh. "We are not the ones who ignited the violence," Mr Somchai said, but added that he was confident the tensions would be resolved. The Thai foreign minister, Sompong Amornviwat, said he was ready to issue the order for all Thais to be evacuated from Cambodia if need be. A Cambodian army official said at least 10 Thai soldiers stationed in a disputed area had surrendered ? a claim denied by Lt gen Wiboonsak Neeparn, the army commander for north eastern Thailand. Thai TV today showed military lorries loaded with tanks heading toward the border and troops setting up mortars while the Thai air force spokesman said before the clashes erupted that fighter jets were on standby. "Normally we have fighter jets on standby at various regional headquarters ready for operation within five minutes but under the current circumstances we have increased our readiness," Group captain Montol Suchookorn said. Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, the Thai army spokesman, earlier confirmed there had been a reinforcement of troops by both Thailand and Cambodia but declined to say how many Thai soldiers were being readied. A meeting between both armies will take place tommorow at 11am local time (4am GMT), to discuss troop levels and weaponry, both sides confirmed. The stand-off between the neighbours first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status by the UN cultural body Unesco, angering some Thai nationalists who still claim ownership of the site. The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the main disputed area. Tensions flared again this week after failed talks on Monday aimed at cooling the months-long standoff. The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen then issued an ultimatum to the Thai side after he accused more than 80 Thai soldiers of entering one of a handful of disputed areas ? telling Bangkok to leave or risk conflict. Cambodian officials insisted that the troops did leave before the Tuesday midday deadline but Sompong said they were standing their ground. The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with land mines left over from decades of war in Cambodia. * AFP