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Thousands flee Thai-Cambodia border battles

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thousands of Thai civilians fled fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops Monday in an intensified border dispute that has raised calls for international intervention. Renewed fighting broke out Sunday evening in Thailand's Si Sa Ket province and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, about 280 miles northeast of Bangkok. Fourteen Thai soldiers and two villagers were injured, the Thai army said.

The fighting has forced 15,000 Thais to flee their homes, Si Sa Ket Governor Somsak Suwansujalit said.

The fighting, which started Friday, has killed two on the Thai side — one soldier and one civilian — and injured 31. Cambodian sources said their side has suffered three dead: two soldiers and one civilian. Each government claimed the other started the fighting.

"Thailand will keep shooting as long as the Cambodians are shooting at us," said Col. Sansern Keowkhamnerd, an army spokesman.

On Saturday, Cambodia sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council warning that the situation was "explosive" and blaming "flagrant aggression" by Thailand.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, which is the chairman of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), was scheduled to visit Cambodia today to seek a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict involving two ASEAN members.

After Phnom Penh, Natalegawa is to visit Bangkok Tuesday.

"The deteriorating situation along the Thai-Cambodian border is undermining confidence in ASEAN and affecting economic recovery, tourism and investment prospects in the region," Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, said in a message to Cambodia and Thailand over the weekend. "This violent conflict must be brought under control and the two parties must return to the negotiating table soonest," Surin said.

Thailand has insisted the border dispute should be settled between it and Cambodia. "Thailand still maintains that the issue is best handled bilaterally though existing mechanisms," Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.

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