Cambodian and Thai troops stationed near the Preah Vihear temple exchanged gunfire Friday afternoon, with injuries sustained by both sides in the first violence between the two militaries since the border standoff began July 15, officials said.
The brief skirmish started about 3 pm and took place approximately 2 km from the disputed temple land, said Minister of Defense Tea Banh.
“Thai soldiers started to fire a M-79 [grenade launcher] at Cambodian soldiers and followed [it with] automatic gun fire for around two minutes,” he said. “Only one of our soldiers got slightly injured on the right had from the M-79 shrapnel.”
“I don’t know about the Thais because they returned after the short shooting,” he added. “I don’t know why they shot gunfire at us.”
About 14 Thai soldiers were patrolling a Cambodian field that lies between Phnom Trap mountain and Preah Vihear mountain, according to Tea Banh. The Cambodians asked the Thais to move back, and the Thais retreated about 100 meters before they launched the grenade and opened fire, triggering return fire from the Cambodian troops, he continued.
“It’s on our side, that’s why we asked them to move back,” Tea Banh said.
But the situation is calm now, he added: “The shooting is over, and our troops have already talked to the Thai troops in the temple to stay calm. Now it is fine. We don’t need talking. It is over.”
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith downplayed the incident, saying that “it was not a battle.” He added that one Thai and one Cambodian soldier had been injured in the fighting before declining further comment.
Officials from the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment, but Agence France-Presse reported Friday evening that two Thai soldiers had been injured according to the governor of the Thai province of Si Sa Ket, which lies across the border from Preah Vihear.