Another Deadly Clash Along Thai Border

3 Cambodian troops, at least 3 Thais killed in fighting near Ta Moan temple

Thai and Cambodian troops clashed yesterday along the border in Oddar Meanchey province, resulting in the deaths of three Cambodian soldiers and at least three Thai soldiers, officials from both countries said yesterday.

Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Mini­stry of Defense, said at a news conference following the clash that six Cambodian soldiers were also injured in the fighting.

Each side accused the other of initiating the conflict. Lt Gen Sucheat said Thai troops had crossed the border and “am­bushed” Cambodian soldiers early yesterday morning. He also claimed Thailand had fired mortar and artillery shells at least 21 km into Cambodia, and that a Thai warplane had flown into Cambodian airspace.

“The shelling terrifies civilians and injures some soldiers,” he said.

Fighting continued until around 12:20 pm along a 25-km stretch of border in Banteay Ampil district, including the area around Ta Moan and Ta Krabei temples, according to Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. He said “thousands” of civilians had been evacuated from the area.

“It’s not a conflict—it’s an invasion,” he said.

An e-mailed statement from the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers added that the Thai shelling had damaged Ta Krabei and Ta Moan temples, and accused Thailand of mounting a months-long military build-up along the border.

But Thai authorities offered their own account of how the fighting started. In a statement yesterday, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the clash an “unprovoked armed attack” by Cambodian troops. The statement claimed Cambodian soldiers opened fire along the border after a Thai military patrol ordered Cambodians to stop digging bunkers in what was supposedly Thai territory.

“The Thai side has never opened fire first and always exercised maximum restraint,” the statement continued.

It also said at least three Thai soldiers had died and 10,000 Thai civilians had been evacuated from their homes in Surin province.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokes­man Thani Thongphakdi declined to elaborate on the statement.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that four Thai soldiers were killed and eight were woun­d­ed by Cambodian artillery shells during the clash.

The fighting follows four days of deadly border clashes near Preah Vihear temple in early February, and more than two subsequent months of painstaking, occasionally contentious negotiations.

A letter sent yesterday by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, accused Thailand of a “fresh act of aggression” and asked Indonesia, the current chair of Asean, to alert the UN Security Council to the incident.

Mr Namhong also wrote di­rectly to Security Council Pre­sident Nestor Osorio with a similar description of the clash.

“This most recent aggression against Cambodia also confirms the reason behind Thailand’s insistence on resolving the conflict ‘bilaterally,’ which is a pretext for using its larger and materially more sophisticated armed forces against Cambodia,” the letter went on to say.

After February’s fighting, both countries agreed to host Indo­nesian observers on either side of the border to monitor an unofficial cease-fire, and to hold border talks in Indonesia in early April. However, apparently due to the Thai military’s distaste for Asean intervention, Thailand has resisted hosting the observers and refused to send military officials to the Indonesia meeting.

Indonesia issued a statement yesterday in its capacity as Asean chair calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and for both sides to continue peaceful ne­gotiations. The statement also said that Mr Marty was in communication with his Thai and Cambodian

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