Two Thai soldiers were seriously injured by anti-personnel mines in the jungle near Preah Vihear temple Monday morning, not far from the location of Oct 3 armed clash between Thai and Cambodian troops, officials said.
“One Thai soldier lost one leg, and another lost his two legs,” the Council of Ministers said in a statement released late Monday.
“[On Monday] morning, 100 Thai soldiers were traveling from north to west toward the shooting site between Cambodian and Thai soldiers…. [A]t 10:20 am, two Thai soldiers among others stepped on a landmine on Cambodian territory, an old mine that was about 150 to 200 meters away from the shooting site,” the statement added. “A Thai helicopter took the two Thai soldiers away.”
Srey Dek, RCAF operation commander at the Preah Vihear temple, said that two mines had exploded in the forest about 2 km northwest of the temple.
“Thai soldiers walk everywhere in the forest,” he said, adding that he met with a Thai military commander Saturday who had agreed to keep his troops stationed and avoid movement in the mined area.
“We told the Thai soldiers that his is an area of landmines, and even Cambodian troops cannot go there,” he said.
Thai and international media Monday quoted Thai officials as claiming that the area in question had been cleared of landmines and the mines that exploded were recently laid by Cambodian forces.
News service Agence France-Presse quoted an anonymous senior provincial official from Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province as saying “two Thai rangers stepped on a landmine that was most likely planted by Cambodian troops before they left that area.”
Thai military Colonel Sirichan Ngathong told Reuters: “We don’t know whose mines they were, but we have dispatched a mine expert to check out the area.”
Srey Dek strongly denied the allegation that RCAF forces had planted mines, saying the area was littered with mines laid by the Khmer Rouge or others during the country’s decades of civil war.
“Cambodian soldiers did not plant new anti-personnel mines in the disputed area,” he said.
Heng Ratana, deputy director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said RCAF troops do not have or use landmines.
“I think that claim by the Thais makes no sense,” Heng Ratana said, adding that the area where the Thai soldiers lost their legs was known for its landmines and that only 100 meters around the Preah Vihear temple had been de-mined.
“As long as there is movement…they will step on landmines,” he said. “Everyone knows that.”
Chaturont Chaiyakam, first secretary at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, said he had no information on the incident, while officials at the Thai Defense and Foreign Affairs ministries could not be reached for comment Monday.
RCAF commanders at two other temples along the border said Monday that the military standoff has intensified slightly since Friday’s incident when Thai and Cambodian forces traded rocket- and rifle-launched grenades, which left one Cambodian and two Thai soldiers injured.
“Before, I sent my troops to the temple during the daytime, but now our troops stay overnight, 24 hours a day, at Ta Moan temple,” said Neak Vong, RCAF Military Region 4 deputy commander at Ta Moan temple, noting that he had talked with his Thai counterpart to maintain peace and security.