- Associated Press - Sunday, February 6, 2011

PHNOM PENH | The Cambodian government said part of an 11th-century stone temple collapsed Sunday because of heavy shelling by the Thai army as the two sides battled across their disputed border for a third day.

The countries accused each other of instigating the clashes, which continued along the darkened mountainous border for more than three hours. The extent of the damage to the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was not clear.

A Thai army spokesman said about 10 soldiers were wounded in the fighting Sunday night. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the clashes resulted in “more human casualties and damages,” but he did not elaborate.

He sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.

At least five people have died in some of the fiercest fighting in years, which erupted Friday and continued for a third straight day despite at least two cease-fires.

The crumbling stone temple, which sits several hundred feet from Thailand’s eastern border with Cambodia, has fueled nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border for decades.

The World Court determined in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, but many Thais dispute that ruling. Thai nationalists have seized on it as a domestic political issue, and the conflict has sparked sporadic, brief battles between the neighbors over the past few years.

The latest fighting broke out in an area close to Preah Vihear, and shelling Saturday caused minor damage to the temple’s facade. Reports on Sunday said the fighting had spread closer to the temple. There was no independent confirmation of the damage.

“A wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment,” the government quoted a Cambodian military commander based near the temple as saying. It did not say how large the wing was.

Built between the ninth and 11th centuries, Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. It sits atop a 1,722-foot cliff in the Dangrek Mountains about 150 miles north of the Cambodian capital.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization calls the site “an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture.” The Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia. The country was plunged into civil war, and the temple fell into disrepair.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called Sunday for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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