BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged fire on their border for a second day on Saturday in a clash that killed a Thai soldier, the latest flare-up in a long-running feud over land around an 11th-century temple.
Southeast Asia’s regional grouping, of which both Thailand and Cambodia are members, said the deteriorating situation was undermining confidence in the region and would affect its economic recovery.
The Thai soldier was killed, and four were wounded, in a 4.6-sq-km (two-sq-mile) disputed area around the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a jungle-clad escarpment claimed by both countries, said Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
The neighbors fought with rocket-propelled grenades and guns for about 25 minutes from 6:15 a.m. (2315 GMT Friday) before reaching a ceasefire in the early afternoon and agreeing not to reinforce troops, the spokesman said.
That followed an intense two-hour clash on Friday in which three Cambodians, including two soldiers, and a Thai villager were killed, the first fatalities in the militarized border area since a Thai soldier was shot dead on January 31, 2010.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said one of the Cambodians killed on Friday was a tourist visiting the temple overlooking northern Cambodia. He said 10 Cambodian soldiers were wounded, but there were no fatalities on Saturday.
The United States has urged both sides to show restraint.
The fighting is the latest flare-up in on-again off-again tension between the neighbors and could inflame passions among Thai pro-establishment “yellow shirt” protesters demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva take a tougher line against Cambodia.
Abhisit told reporters the army had his full support in protecting Thailand’s sovereignty.
Earlier, the Thai Foreign Ministry accused Cambodia of engaging in “an act of aggression” in “violation of Thai sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Cambodia accuses Thailand of invasion and filed a complaint with the U.N. Security Council.
The Thai government said 3,000 civilians were evacuated during Friday’s fighting.
The clashes come after a Cambodian court on Tuesday handed down jail terms of six and eight years to two Thai activists found guilty of trespassing and spying in the border region, a verdict that has angered some in Thailand.
The temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on land that forms a natural border and has been a source of tension for generations.
The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962 but the ruling did not determine the ownership of the scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.
The area is remote with only scattered villages on the Thai side and little development on the Cambodian side.
The secretary-general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for calm and said both sides must return to negotiations.
“The situation has escalated into open conflict. And that will definitely affect our economic development, confidence in our region, and tourism and prospects for foreign investment, which have just been picking up in light of the world economic recovery,” Surin Pitsuwan said in a statement.
Surin, a former Thai foreign minister, said he had been in touch with both sides who he understood welcomed ASEAN mediation.
ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is trying to promote economic integration in the region of 580 million people with a combined gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion.
Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh and Viparat Jantraprap in Bangkok; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Robert Birsel