Thai fighter jets yesterday streaked along the Cambodian border near Preah Vihear temple, where troops remained on alert after armed clashes between the two nations started Feb 4, villagers and military officials said.
Soldiers and villagers said yesterday that the planes had flown very close to, if not inside, Cambodian air space between Koh Kong and Preah Vihear provinces.
The Thai military quickly told Thai newspapers that the flyover had been a “mistake.”
“F16 and F18 fighter planes flew very close to the Cambodian border by mistake about 1 pm on Thursday,” the Bangkok Post quoted the Royal Thai Air Force chief of staff, Air Chief Marshal Prachin Chantong, as saying.
ACM Prachin was quoted as saying the fighters were meant to come no closer than 10 km but had in fact come within two to three km of the Cambodian border and were “from the air forces of Thailand, the United States and Singapore taking part in the Cobra Gold 2011 exercise being held in the 2nd and 3rd Army Regions.”
The US Embassy yesterday denied that any US planes were involved.
“There were no US planes near the border,” the spokesperson said.
Officials from the Thai Embassy and Thai Foreign Ministry could not be reached yesterday.
Colonel Kan Lorn, deputy commander, 9th Battalion, 3rd Division, said he was at the Phnom Trop front line near Preah Vihear temple when he saw an F-16 fighter fly past on the Thai side of the border.
Col Lorn said his men understood that the planes were taking part in the joint military exercise in Thailand.
Chan Chay, a villager in Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Smach commune said he saw two fighter planes fly at low altitude over his head at high speed at about 1:15 pm.
“Our villagers stood outside their houses to see the Thai air forces fly over their heads,” Mr Chay said, adding that the deafening roar from the planes’ engines caused villagers to panic.
Some villagers had only just returned to their homes, after leaving the area due to the violence that broke out at Preah Vihear on Feb 4.
“Our villagers are very worried about the border situation and the possibility of war between Cambodian and Thai soldiers,” Mr Chay added.
Brigadier General Sok Pang, an officer at the Defense Ministry’s air safeguard headquarters in Phnom Penh, said military officials were checking to see if the planes flew within Cambodian air space.
“Our Cambodian border is curving. If they flew on a straight course, they flew into our territory,” Brig Gen Pang said.
The flyover came yesterday as Cambodian military officials continued to report a buildup of Thai forces at the border in Preah Vihear.
“Nothing has happened today. It is still normal,” said General Chea Dara, the RCAF tactical director. “But they continue to build up their forces on the Thai side, and we still stay on alert.”
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Mark Worley)