- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2011

BANGKOK | Three days of fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border claimed the lives of at least 10 soldiers and forced thousands of villagers to flee a conflict between two Buddhist countries over ancient Hindu ruins that are potentially lucrative tourist sites.

Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged artillery fire for about two hours Sunday. Thailand claimed no new casualties, but Cambodia reported the deaths of six soldiers.

Clashes Saturday killed three Cambodian troops and one Thai soldier, and three troops on each side died Friday.

The fighting was the worst since February when four days of similar combat killed 10 soldiers and prompted the U.N. Security Council to call for restraint.

In New York over the weekend, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again urged both countries to stop fighting and agree to a verifiable cease-fire.

The dispute between the neighbors involves small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fueling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia’s 11th-century Preah Vihear temple received U.N. World Heritage status over Thai objections.

Thailand is perceived as jealous of Cambodia’s plan to bring tourists to visit the cliff-top ruins of the 11th century Hindu temple. Preah Vihear was part of a network of ancient temple sites linked to Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat complex.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice in the Hague awarded the ruins to Cambodia, dismissing Thai claims to the temple sites. Thailand said that decision exempted a three-square-mile plot of land surrounding the temple.

During the past several years, Thais occupied the disputed plot to control a main entrance to the ruins and erect nearby tourist shops, restaurants, and transportation facilities.

During the past few months, Indonesia has tried to broker talks. Cambodia supported mediation, but Thailand insisted on bilateral talks only between the combatants.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is to visit Cambodia on Monday in another attempt to reach a cease-fire, according to a ministry official who oversees Asian-Pacific affairs, Hamzah Thayeb.

“We are trying to do the best for the two sides to continue to resolve their differences through peaceful means,” Mr. Thayeb said, adding that observers could only be sent if approved by both sides.

The fresh clashes coincide with fears expressed by Thailand’s media and opposition politicians that the military is plotting a coup to install a puppet regime because the generals fear a possible return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand’s U.S.-trained military ousted Mr. Thaksin in a bloodless 2006 coup.

Mr. Thaksin has based himself mostly in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption during his five-year elected administration.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.