preah vihear temple – An armed Thai paramilitary soldier was apprehended and detained briefly by RCAF troops Tuesday about 2 km inside Cambodian territory near Preah Vihear temple, officials said Wednesday.
“We arrested the Thai soldier,” said Som Bopharoath, Preah Vihear provincial RCAF deputy commander, adding that the soldier was found about 2 km inside the border and 4 km from Preah Vihear temple.
“After about one hour of questioning, we sent him to the Thai side and released him to Thai authorities,” Som Bopharoath said.
Hang Soth, secretary-general of the Preah Vihear Authority, the government body responsible for the temple’s preservation, identified the soldier as Puth Lyhout, 35, from Thailand’s Brigade 6.
During questioning, Puth Lyhout said he had been with a Vihear temple, and Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the soldier was detained in the Ta Thao area, east of Preah Vihear temple. That area is not part of the disputed border zone with Thailand, which is west of the temple, and the Thai soldier’s unit was clearly on Cambodian land, Koy Kuong confirmed. He added that the paramilitary was armed with an M-16 rifle.
Set Sawant Pracaum, a Thai military communications officer at the Preah Vihear temple who was present when the detained Thai soldier was handed over, said the recruit had strayed into Cambodia because he was drunk.
“The Thai soldier who went into Cambodia on Tuesday will be punished with five days in jail by military law because he was drunk and looked nervous,” Set Sawant Pracaum said.
Chaturont Chaiyakam, first secretary at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, said Wednesday that he didn’t need to comment on the latest incident. “You don’t need my comments, OK? Just write what you heard,” he said by telephone before hanging up.
Wednesday’s arrest follows an armed clash Friday between Thai and Cambodian troops on Phnom Trop mountain near the temple and a mine explosion Monday in which two Thai troops lost limbs.
Hom Kha, deputy village chief of Prasat village near the temple, said some locals had moved up to the temple and others had left the area because they were worried there could be more fighting.
“The war might happen at night or at day, I don’t know,” said Prak Nath, 57, who was with her two grandsons, aged 6 and 7.
“So I moved up from the village to the temple for my grandsons’ safety,” she said.
Border military police, who declined to be named, said they had advised villagers to move away from the temple area.
Sar Thavy, Preah Vihear deputy provincial governor, also confirmed he has told villagers since July 16 not to use Thai SIM cards in their mobile phones because authorities are worried the Thais could intercept sensitive information.
Villagers, however, are still using the Thai phone service because Cambodian mobile services are limited around the temple area.
Hang Soth said he asked his staff today to remind villagers not to use their Thai phone service.
(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)