Report of New Border Clash Under Investigation

Military and police officials yesterday said calm had returned to a disputed borderline with Thailand in northern Oddar Meanchey province following a brief firefight Thursday that left one RCAF soldier dead.

Thai officials claimed no knowledge of the incident.

Council of Ministers spokes­man Phay Siphan denied that there had been any shooting. He did confirm that an “incident” at the border—which he declined to elaborate on—was under investigation, and that he was still waiting for details on a reported injury and a reported death.

“There was an incident,” Mr Siphan said. “Not an armed clash.”

However, Major General Nuon Nov, deputy commander of RCAF’s Region 4, said eight soldiers were on a routine patrol of a stretch of border just west of Preah Vihear province yet to be bilaterally demarcated when a group of Thai border police unexpectedly opened fire with automatic rifles, fatally injuring one.

“It occurred during a patrol along the border. The Thais opened fire on us first,” Maj Gen Nov said, adding that local military commanders typically inform their Thai counterparts of their movements to avoid misunderstanding.

He said the Cambodian soldiers responded with their own light arms in a 10-minute firefight. He did not know whether any Thai police were injured.

“We lost one,” he said, failing to recall the soldier’s name. “We don’t know about the Thai side.”

Trapaing Prasat district police chief Keo Tan said the clash oc­curred at about 3 pm in O’Svay com­mune, and that tensions had since subsided.

“The situation is quiet now and there is no tension,” he said.

Colonel Veerachon Sukond­had­hpatipak, a spokesman for the Thai army, said he had no knowledge of recent fighting.

“I don’t think we have any report on that,” he said yesterday. “I am pretty sure there was no such incident.”

Thailand’s ambassador to Cam­bodia, Sompong Sanguan­bun, said he had not heard any reports of recent border fighting either.

Officials at the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.

In June of last year, Maj Gen Nov reported a brief firefight be­tween Thai and Cambodian soldiers along the same stretch of border with no injuries.

At the time, he blamed the incident on newly arrived Thai troops unfamiliar with the local patrol arrangements.

The latest report of fighting comes amid a stalled withdrawal of Thai and Cambodian troops from a newly designated demilitarized zone around Preah Vihear temple to the east, the scene of deadly border fighting in February.

The International Court of Justice created the zone in a July 18 ruling and ordered both sides to withdraw their troops immediately.

Both sides have pledged to comply, but laid down various conditions that have blocked progress. Cambodia wants international ob­servers stationed inside the zone before it withdraws.

Thailand says it will only let the observers in after Cambodia draws back.

On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen unveiled a seven-point plan for a simultaneous troop withdrawal but stuck to Cambodia’s demand that the observers arrive first.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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