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Thai-Cambodian clashes, nationalist passions, and a neglected temple

Today's deadly Thai-Cambodian clash near the disputed Preah Vihear temple comes days after a Cambodian court convicted two Thai nationals of espionage.

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A view of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, a World Heritage Site, is seen during sunrise in Preah Vihear Province, 337 miles north of Phnom Penh in this March 13, 2009, file photo.

Chor Sokunthea/Reuters/File

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When Thai and Cambodian troops clashed today along their disputed border, it was only the latest in a number of deadly firefights over a patch of land surrounding an 11th century temple.

After months of escalating rhetoric, today's exchange of gunfire reportedly killed at least one villager and injured at least five Thai troops. Each military blamed the other for initiating the fight near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Most of the time, however, the volatile border area has been silent, even as hundreds of troops from both sides have remained camped in the surrounding jungle for several years. On a recent visit to the temple, the surrounding military trenches were empty and the ledges were bare of artillery.

The dispute is fueled by nationalist passions. Cambodia's successful effort in July 2008 to register the temple – which known as Khao Prah Viharn in Thailand – as a World Heritage Site enraged Thai nationalists who claimed sovereignty of the land.

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