In an effort to reduce tensions near Preah Vihear temple, Cambodian and Thai forces gathered together and shared a Sunday afternoon lunch along the disputed region at the border, military officials said.
Without giving a specific location or number of attendees, RCAF Division 3 commander Major General Srey Dek said the rival sides sat down for a meal of pork and vegetables at the border. He said the lunch was a chance to lessen any friction developing between the neighboring countries after Thai and Cambodian leaders engaged in some heated rhetoric in recent weeks and both sides bolstered the fortification of their respective defensive positions near the hilltop temple.
“We met together for lunch along the border to cut down the tension and foster friendship for both [sides’] soldiers,” he said by telephone near the site of the centuries-old Khmer monument.
Chea Dara, deputy RCAF operations commander at Preah Vihear temple, said the troops also shared a drink, though the beverage of choice was Coca-Cola, since imbibing alcohol is frowned upon at the front.
“Thai soldiers brought pork and Cambodian soldiers brought the vegetables to make soup and they were not allowed to drink alcohol,” he said in a telephone interview from the border.
He said the situation is stable around the 11th century structure. However, he declined to comment on whether Thai forces have withdrawn its unit of 10 soldiers from the pagoda at the approach of the road to the temple or its 20 soldiers from the valley that intersects Preah Vihear and Thailand’s front lines, redeployments that were reportedly agreed to recently by the Thais.
The calm at the border was disturbed before the lunch when a Cambodian soldier stepped on a landmine Sunday morning, wounding his right leg. Mr Dek said officials believe the man stepped on an old landmine on O’Chak Chreng hill about 7 km from the temple. He said the limb was not amputated and declined to name the soldier, who was treated near the site of the temple.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban met during an inauguration ceremony Saturday for National Road 67 though, according to Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, but it was unclear if the pair discussed any politics regarding the border row. According to the Thai News Agency, Mr Suthep told reporters his one-day visit was only aimed at promoting bilateral relations and he did not speak about Preah Vihear or troop reductions with Mr Hun Sen.
Eang Sophalleth, an assistant to the premier, could not be reached by telephone Sunday, nor could Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also met late Saturday with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to discuss a variety of issues, according to a news briefing on the UN’s website. However, it was also unknown if Thailand’s border conflict with Cambodia was a topic of discussion.
(Additional reporting by Frank Radosevich)