preah vihear temple – Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday downplayed talk of war with Thailand and urged Cambodian citizens to not worry about their safety.
“There is no big war happening,” the prime minister told reporters following a weekly Cabinet meeting.
“I judge that…although there was fighting on the 15th, both sides have yet to use big or heavy guns that can reach long kilometer distances. So it means and proves that the two sides are willing to resolve the matter,” Hun Sen said, adding: “That is why I appeal to people living close to the border line: Do not worry or be afraid.”
Prior to Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Hun Sen also said that he would push for increase in defense spending, Reuters reported.
“We must look to increase the military budget,” the premier was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Thailand furthered accusations that Cambodian troops are planting landmines in the disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.
According to a Friday statement from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thai officials met with Ouk Sophoin, charge d’affaires of the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, to ask Cambodia to investigate whether RCAF troops were laying down new mines in the border area. Two Thai soldiers were seriously wounded in a landmine blast near the temple on Oct 6.
Hun Sen however said Friday that it was impossible for Cambodia to be mining the area: “We at the present are destroying mines, [this] is the first reason,” he said. “Secondly, we are a signatory of the Ottawa Convention to ban landmines. We already destroyed all the mines in warehouses. We have no mines to deploy, and Cambodia does not need to.”
Also on Friday, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan denied reports emanating from Thailand that Cambodian and Thai commanders had agreed to mount joint patrols of the disputed border area.
Following talks with military commanders at the temple on Friday, Ke Kim Yan said that the situation was once again calm and that continued communication with Thai commanders was imperative to preventing further clashing breaking out.
In addition to talking more, both sides would be keeping their distance in the disputed jungle around the temple, Ke Kim Yan said.
“It is not correct to say that we will patrol together. We keep our distance far away from each other. This is the deal from the talks,” he told reporters after the meeting.
“There is no way to have a joint patrol. We only agreed to keep the forces distanced and to keep communicating among each other,” he added.
“There will be no full-scale conflict as both sides have already had a meeting to avoid confusion.”
Commanders leading the operation at the temple also said on Friday that the clash earlier in the week in Veal Entry, or “Eagle Field,” that left three Cambodian soldiers dead and several Thai troops injured, was a skirmish between patrols that got out of hand.
“So far the fighting happened accidentally. It is not intentional on both sides,” said Colonel Som Bopharoath, Preah Vihear province RCAF commander.
“Patrols clashed. We agreed that no one can patrol in that area,” he said, referring to Eagle Field, and adding that both sides need to continue communicating.
Also part of Thursday’s peace talks, was the release of 10 Thai troops who were disarmed and detained at the pagoda near the temple during the clashes on Wednesday.
During a visit to the pagoda on Friday reporters met two of the Thai commanders, Captain Apichat and Major Veeripong, who reported that they were in good shape and that their men had returned earlier that morning to Thai territory.
Another minor casualty of Wednesday’s clash, which lasted more than one hour, was one of the stone naga sculptures at the section of Preah Vihear known as the first temple.
An M-79 rifle-launched grenade fired from the Thai frontlines landed and few meters behind one of the nagas and shrapnel left a few small chips in the sculpture and the wall of the temple’s entrance walkway. A second grenade landed nearby, but caused no damage to the temple.
Om Phirum, chief of the temple’s heritage police, was outraged as he viewed the scene on Friday.
“This is a serious crime,” Om Phirum said.
“This shows that the Thai soldiers do not respect Unesco’s listing of the temple as a World Heritage Site,” he said.
“I am seriously concerned that if the fighting continues the temple will be seriously affected,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren and Katie Nelson in Phnom Penh)