Fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai soldiers yesterday, with both sides exchanging rockets and gunfire for roughly 10 minutes as they clashed 20 km to the east of the Preah Vihear temple, military and government officials said.
Reports varied on what triggered the firefight, the number of causalities and how many rockets were launched. However, the armed clash, the third at the border since 2008, followed recent reinforcement of Cambodian positions and last week’s unsuccessful military-to-military talks on troop movements.
The two groups fired upon one another at about 9:15 am in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district about a kilometer from the border in the area known as Choam Te, Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said.
He said a unit of about 20 Cambodian soldiers were patrolling in the area when they came across an unknown number of Thai soldiers. Mr Sucheat claimed that the Thai soldiers fired first and that neither side had reported any wounded or dead.
“Every morning they patrol in their area,” he said of the Cambodia soldiers based along the border. “Now our commanders are meeting. They go and solve the problem with the Thais.”
Mr Sucheat said the Thai troops fell back after the shooting died down.
RCAF Region 4 Deputy Chief of Staff Men Ly said he saw Thai troops carrying away wounded after the battle but could not say how many were taken away.
The official Thai News Agency reported yesterday evening that two Thai soldiers had been wounded and Colonel Thawatchai Changprachak, commander of the Thai rangers 23rd regiment, had met yesterday with RCAF Major-General Srey Dek, commander of the Cambodian 3rd Division, and that both sides had agreed the clash was due to an unspecified “misunderstanding.”
A Thai government spokesman was unavailable.
During a brief interview, Mr Dek, the RCAF 3rd Division commander, said no injuries were reported.
Choam Ksan District Governor Ros Heng said about 30 Thai rangers wearing black uniforms fired on the RCAF soldiers with a shoulder-fired B-40 rocket. He said about seven rockets were fired between the two groups as they fought in the area between Kantuot and Choam Ksan communes.
Over at Phnom Trop, which is adjacent to the temple, Thai and Cambodian forces met to defuse tensions, said RCAF Captain Men Saravuth.
“We are here in Phnom Trop where the situation is normal,” he said. “Because it occurred this morning, we had a meeting two or three times with Thai soldiers.”
The fighting began just after a scheduled visit from Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong who arrived near the 11th century monument by helicopter yesterday morning. Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the minister was not in any danger and spent his trip meeting with troops and observing the situation along the boundary by the temple.
Mr Kuong said the ministry had not yet communicated with its Thai counterparts about the clash.
Citing provincial governor Oum Mara, provincial information director Rath Sophear said Prime Minister Hun Sen plans to travel to Choam Ksan district on Feb 6 to inaugurate the headquarters for the RCAF 3rd Division.
Yesterday’s firefight was the first since April 3, when fighting erupted near the Preah Vihear temple.
At that time, Cambodian and Thai troops clashed during a brief morning battle after Thai soldiers reportedly entered Veal Entry, or Eagle Field, a small jungle-dense valley that both countries claim. The 7 am skirmish was followed by an hour-long afternoon confrontation in which Thai forces destroyed the temple’s market.
Cambodian officials have also denounced a spate of recent fatal shootings of Cambodians accused of crossing the border to log timber illegally in Thailand.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)