The government Saturday said five Cambodian security personnel and two civilians were killed in border fighting with Thai troops between Feb 4 and 7, the first official casualty and damage roundup since the latest round of fighting broke out.
Both Thailand and Cambodia are scheduled to meet in New York today with representatives of the UN Security Council, where the two countries are expected to defend their actions in the fighting. Thailand plans to reject outside mediation, according to media reports.
According to Saturday’s statement by Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, Thai troops killed four Cambodian soldiers, one police officer and two civilians, and injured 30 more soldiers and a civilian. The government also claimed that Thai fire, deliberately aimed at civilians, had also displaced nearly 3,000 families and destroyed three houses and two police stations.
The statement also says Thai fire, which appeared to cause damage to Preah Vihear temple, may also have undermined the World Heritage Site’s foundation and included chemical weapons.
The Thai government last week claimed the fighting had killed two people, including a civilian, but Cambodian forces claimed to have killed more.
Bangkok and Phnom Penh have blamed each other for the fighting around the temple, where both lay claim to a 4.6-square-km parcel of land.
“This is very good for us,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday of the meeting scheduled for today in New York. He declined to say what Cambodia expected to come of it.
Since Prime Minister Hun Sen asked for the meeting in a Feb 6 letter to the council, he has also publicly discussed the possibility of UN buffer zone along the disputed border and deploying peacekeepers. Thailand is insisting on settling the dispute bilaterally.
In the mounting war of words leading up to today’s meeting in New York, the Council of Ministers over the weekend called Thailand’s claims to the temple and its surrounds “a campaign of intoxication of national and international public opinion.” Thai officials meanwhile have been dismissing Mr Hun Sen’s claims that the border fighting amounts to “real war.”
Along the border, the military reported a sixth straight day without fighting.
“The situation here is quiet,” said General Chea Dara, deputy RCAF commander. “Even though the Thais still try to provoke our troops, we have stayed calm.”
Gen Dara declined to say what provocative moves Thai troops were making. On Friday, RCAF Colonel Kan Lorn said they had been firing regularly at Cambodian positions.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat yesterday said explosions could also be heard on the Thai side of the border, but he said he suspected they were only old landmines being triggered.
Thai army officials have also been playing down the chance or renewed fighting.
Thai news outlet MCOT reported yesterday that the Second Army Area commander, Lieutenant General Thawatchai Samutsakorn, said he was “90 percent confident” that fresh fighting would not break out along the border in the near future.
It remains unclear, though, when Unesco intends to visit the temple. The UN cultural preservation body announced plans on Feb 8 to send a team to the temple to assess the damage it sustained during fighting. By Thursday, it said a visit would have to wait until “calm has been restored to the area.”
Unesco said Friday that former Unesco director-general Koichiro Matsuura would be heading to Bangkok and Phnom Penh to look for ways of protecting the temple until then and to help the two sides talk their way down from current tensions.
Chuch Phoeun, chairman of the Preah Vihear Authority and deputy director-general of the National Commission for Unesco, said he had yet to receive any word of the visits.