Fighting between Cambodian and Thai soldiers broke out at Preah Vihear temple yesterday, killing at least one Thai national and one Cambodian soldier, according to media reports and officials.
The fighting broke out as Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya was visiting Cambodia to meet his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong during the seventh meeting of the Joint Commission on the Bilateral Cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Thai soldiers had invaded Cambodian territory near to the eleventh century temple at around 3 pm and had been the first to shoot at Cambodian soldiers.
He said that the invasion was “planned” after Thailand had given an ultimatum to Cambodia to remove a national flag from a pagoda on disputed land near Preah Vihear temple.
“By 3 pm this afternoon…Thai soldiers invaded Cambodian land around the area of Sambok Khmum” near the Keo Sekha Kirisvarak pagoda, he said, adding that both sides had used heavy artillery during the violence.
“Cambodia tried our best to stop them,” he said. “Thailand fired first to clear the way to get to the pagoda.”
As of 5:15 pm Mr Siphan said that the fighting was still ongoing and that no casualties had been reported.
“We do not have the number of casualties yet but we understand that four Thai soldiers have been captured.”
Contacted later he said fighting had stopped around 5:40 pm.
The Bangkok Post reported that man in a Thai border village in Si Sa Ket province was killed by artillery rounds during the firefight.
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh from Siem Reap yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, said that more than 300 Thai soldiers had advanced into Cambodian territory until they were 500 meters away from the first step leading up to the Preah Vihear temple.
He also said that Cambodia had captured four Thai soldiers, and said that Cambodia would be filing a complaint with the UN Security Council by tomorrow morning.
“Thai soldiers shot heavy artillery weapons…between 18 and 20 kilometers inside Cambodia,” he told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday.
RCAF officials at the Preah Vihear Temple said that at least two Thai tanks had been destroyed and that local villagers in the area had fled the scene.
“We lost one and have four injured,” said one senior RCAF official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, adding that several Thai houses had also been burnt down close to the border.
Major General Srey Doek, commander at Preah Vihear Temple, declined to talk to a reporter as he was busy giving troops orders. Reached at about 5 pm yesterday gunfire could be heard through his cell phone.
The fighting came just days after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced the Thai Patriots Network’s Veera Somkwamkid and his assistant, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon to eight and six-year jail terms, respectively, after convicting the pair of crossing into Cambodia illegally, entering a military area unauthorized and espionage.
Cambodia’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit said yesterday Thai soldiers “stormed into Cambodian territory” at Veal Entry and Cambodian armed forces warned the Thais to stop and pull back.
“However, the Thai soldiers refused to do so and opened unprovoked fire on Cambodian troops,” the unit said in a statement.
“The Thai actions were to be carried out on the orders of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to destroy Cambodia’s Keo Sikha Kirisvara pagoda in order to satisfy the demands of the PAD,” the statement added.
Mr Kasit visited Mr Veera at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh yesterday arriving at the location at 4 pm and without stopping to speak to reporters.
However in a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport before returning to Thailand yesterday evening, Mr Kasit said he was unaware as to why Thai soldiers had entered Cambodian territory and urged both sides to pacify the situation.
“The border situation particularly in and around Prah Vihan [Thai for Preah Vihear] is very sensitive on both sides,” he said. “Both sides must use utmost restraint.”
“Even if there was to be some fighting and so on, it was within a few hours,” he continued, adding that he had called the Defense Ministry in Bangkok to organize an immediate ceasefire.
Asked by a reporter who had ordered Thai troops to enter into Cambodia Mr Kasit said, “I don’t know, this is something you have to find out, I have to find out on both sides.”
Mr Kasit also said that “there are some” casualties, but did not elaborate further.
The official Thai news agency MCOT reported yesterday that artillery shells from Cambodia fell into Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province.
Thai and Cambodian troops have been at a standoff over a disputed 4.6-square-km stretch of the border since 2008. Thai nationalist groups like the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Mr Veera’s TPN have denounced their government for not doing more to stake their claim to the land.
The last time fighting broke out between the two countries came in April last year when at least four Thai soldiers were injured when black-uniformed Thai soldiers attempted to force RCAF soldiers from their position in Samraong City’s O’Smach commune in Banteay Meanchey province.
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)