PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Cambodian government said part of an 11th century temple was damaged Sunday by the Thai army as the two sides exchanged artillery and mortar fire across their disputed border, shattering a shaky cease-fire and escalating tensions.
The extent of the damage to the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was not clear. There were no immediate reports of casualties as fighting continued across the darkened mountainous border for more than three hours.
The fiercest border clashes in years erupted Friday and continued for a third straight day Sunday despite at least two cease-fires.
The clashes initially broke out in an area close to the Preah Vihear temple, which belongs to Cambodia under a 1962 World Court ruling disputed by many Thais. There were reports that Sunday's fighting had spread closer to the temple itself.
"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.
There was no immediate comment from Thai authorities.
Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple that reflects the beliefs of the kings who ruled what was then the Angkorean empire, is located on the top of a 1,722-foot (525-meter) cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles (245 kilometers) north of the Cambodian capital.
The temple has long fueled nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border.
Both sides have accused each other of instigating the latest round of fighting. Clashes on Saturday also caused minor damage to the facade of the temple, near a strip of disputed land that Thai nationalists have seized on as a domestic political issue.
Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from the area near the temple.
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called earlier Sunday for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.
"I insist that the dispute on the border issues must be solved through nonviolent means," Abhisit said in his weekly address to the nation. "Thailand never thought of invading anyone, but if our sovereignty is violated, we have to protect it ultimately."