Cambodian and Thai officials yesterday downplayed a brief firefight between their respective troops on Sunday morning, which reportedly left two Thai soldiers injured and was the result of a disagreement over the precise location of the shared frontier.
“Today everything seems to be quiet,” Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said. “Now everything is OK.”
Mr Sucheat said yesterday that Cambodian commanders in the field met with their Thai counterparts to prevent the military engagement from escalating further. He said each country apparently thought the other was trespassing on its territory, and tensions boiled over during the encounter resulting in rocket, grenade and assault rifle fire.
Fighting broke out at about 9:15 am between Cambodian soldiers and Thai border rangers 20 km east of the Preah Vihear temple in the area between Kantuot and Choam Ksan communes in Choam Ksan district. The two sides reportedly exchanged sustained rocket and rifle fire and, according to the official Thai News Agency, two Thai soldiers were injured.
A Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that the 10-minute battle should not affect wider relations between the neighboring countries—which have been at a historic low in recent months—saying the unclear borderline has caused similar confrontations in the past.
“We are waiting for security officers to assess the situation and make a report to the government,” Mr Panitan said from Thailand. “But we are certain it is not going to affect our relations.”
Mr Panitan said the Thai Cabinet could discuss the armed clash during its meeting today. However, he added the government was still waiting on a conclusive report. He said the fighting “could be a misunderstanding of certain border issues.”
Colonel Meas Yoeun, a deputy provincial RCAF commander based near the site of the brief battle, said the situation has returned “to normal,” but he added that only 70 meters separated the two opposing military forces in Choam Ksan district.
“We are standing face-to-face at the front line about 70 meters in the area of Choam Te. But the situation is calming down and both side have released tension after they negotiated” on Sunday and yesterday, he said.
Mr Yoeun also said that Thai troops once located near the Cambodian village of Veal Bosbov in Kantuot commune have since withdrawn roughly 2 km into Thailand. He added a source in Thailand said three border rangers died as a result of the Sunday morning fire fight, but he stressed the information could not be officially confirmed.
To the east at the hilltop Preah Vihear temple, daily life was unperturbed.
“The situation is quiet and calm at the border and our visitors are still climbing up to visit the Preah Vihear temple,” Choam Ksan district Governor Ros Heng said. “And the Kor Muoy and Sa Em markets are both open as usual,” he said.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong arrived near the 11th-century monument by helicopter shortly before the fighting began on Sunday although the ministry said he was not in danger at any time.