NONG KANNA, Thailand: Cambodia accused Thailand on Monday of damaging ancient jungle temples at the center of their bloodiest fighting since a bitter border dispute flared up almost three years ago.
Twelve soldiers have died and tens of thousands of villagers on both sides fled the artillery shelling, which shattered an informal ceasefire that had held since February when the United Nations (UN) Security Council called for a permanent truce.
The fighting resumed again on Monday afternoon with several shells fired, both sides said, as usual blaming each other for the violence.
The clashes began on Friday near two groups of contested temples—called Ta Kwai and Ta Muen in Thai, and Ta Krabei and Ta Moan in Khmer—deep inside the jungle away from the main tourist trail.
The Cambodian defense ministry said in a statement that the Thai attacks had caused damage to the ruins, without giving further details.
“We do not know the extent of the damage to the temples yet,” said Ministry of Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat.
Seven Cambodian and five Thai troops have died in the violence, while another Cambodian soldier has been missing since Friday.
About 20,000 civilians have sought refuge in 16 camps on the Thai side of the border while about 17,000 have been evacuated from Cambodian villages.
Others, however, stayed behind to guard their properties, despite the danger from shells falling in the area.
The recent clashes represent the first serious outbreak of hostilities since February when 10 people were killed in the border conflict near the 900-year-old disputed Preah Vihear temple, which is located about 150 kilometers away from the latest flashpoint.
The fighting comes at a sensitive political time for Thailand, with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva preparing to dissolve the lower house of parliament soon for elections he has said will be held by early July.
The two neighbors have fought a series of bloody gunbattles in recent years in the jungle near the ancient temples along the border, but none as deadly as the latest eruption of violence.
The frontier has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.