ARTILLERY fire boomed across the Thai-Cambodian frontier for a seventh day today as fierce border clashes erupted again between the two neighbours and the death toll rose to 15.
Loud explosions could be heard since dawn in Phanom Dongrak, a village about 20 kilometre from the border.
In Cambodia, field commander Col. Suos Sothea said the fighting was centering again around the ruins of two crumbling stone temples from the Khmer Empire at Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, which have been caught in crossfire since last Friday.
The body of a Thai soldier who died in a rocket-propelled grenade attack was loaded into a helicopter at a hospital in Phanom Dongrak, which was busy with wounded Thai soldiers arriving from the front.
The soldier’s death brought to 15 the number of dead in the latest wave of fighting, which has forced tens of thousands of civilians on both sides to flee their homes.
The border dispute has stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides, but analysts say domestic politics may also be fuelling the conflict, especially in Thailand, where the military that staged a coup in 2006 could be flexing its muscles ahead of elections due in June or July.
Cambodian leader Hun Sen yesterday accused Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of loving war and provoking the conflict, but said he still wants to talk peace with him at an upcoming regional meeting in Indonesia.
Cambodia employed truck-mounted rocket launchers for the first time on Tuesday, in what Mr Hun Sen said was retaliation for Thailand’s use of heavy weapons.
Mr Abhisit, meanwhile, said his government is not willing to have a meeting of the two countries’ defence ministers unless there is a ceasefire first.
“If they want to talk, the easiest way is to stop the firing,” Mr Abhisit told parliament after visiting injured civilians in Surin province in the northeast.
The conflict involves small swaths of land along the border that have been disputed for more than half a century. Fierce clashes have broken out several times since 2008, when Cambodia’s 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thailand’s objections.
Talks with Cambodia have apparently become a divisive issue within the Thai government, with the military dragging its feet while Mr Abhisit takes a more conciliatory position.
The Thai army has already stymied a plan to station Indonesian military observers along the border. Mr Hun Sen said yesterday that Cambodia would welcome them on its side of the border regardless of any delays by Thailand.
Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after four days of border fighting in February.