Thailand and Cambodia were preparing on Tuesday for ceasefire talks after a new front opened in their worst border fighting in recent history, in which 13 soldiers have died. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes on both sides as heavy weapons fire pounded the jungle frontier, shattering a fragile truce that had held since February. “Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh has agreed to meet his Thai counterpart in Phnom Penh shortly to discuss a ceasefire between the two countries,” the Cambodian defence ministry said in a statement.
Thai Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon indicated that he was ready for dialogue with his Cambodian counterpart. “We will have an opportunity to talk and there will be no problem. I think the situation will ease within a few days,” he told reporters in Thailand during a visit to the border area. The two armies exchanged fire on Tuesday near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, which has been the focus of strained relations between the neighbours since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008.
Fighting erupted near the ruins at 1:30 pm (0630 GMT) and lasted for 30 minutes, said Thai army spokesman Colonel Prawit Hookaew. “They fired artillery and mortar and we retaliated,” he said. Cambodia blamed Thailand for starting the clash, which broke out in an area that had been relatively calm for two months and is 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of two other disputed temple complexes that have been the scene of fierce fighting since Friday. In February, 10 people were killed near the Preah Vihear temple, prompting a UN appeal for a permanent ceasefire. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged Thailand and Cambodia to show restraint and said Washington was “deeply concerned”. She said that the United States had engaged directly with Thai and Cambodian officials in hopes of ending the violence, without providing further details. More than 23,000 people have been displaced by the fighting on the Cambodian side, authorities have said.