War Not Likely, Cambodian Officials Say
A Thai soldier was killed late Friday as Cambodian and Thai forces briefly battled along the two nations’ shared border in Pursat province, Cambodian police and military officials said yesterday.
Despite reporting the second such clash between the two countries in as many weeks, Cambodian officials minimized the threat of wider conflict.
Thai officials were not immediately available for comment.
The incident occurred at about 10 pm in Veal Veng district’s Thma Da commune in the first armed confrontation with Thai troops to occur away from the northern border since 2008.
Provincial border police chief Kuoy Saroeun said border police discovered came upon a roughly 20-strong unit of Thai rangers who had ventured about 200 meters within Cambodian territory and set up three groups in a temporary camp.
Mr Saroeun said he telephoned Thai leaders, who initially denied any Thai troops were in Cambodia, before sending six Cambodian border police to investigate. Mr Saroeun said the Cambodian border police moved within 50 meters of the Thai rangers and shouted at the group to get their attention, ordering them to leave the area.
As they tried to make verbal contact, the Thai forces opened fire.
“They fired upon our border police using M-16 rifles and shotguns and our six border policemen shot back in self-defense using B-40 rockets and AK-47 rifles,” he said of the 20-minute shootout.
On Saturday morning, Mr Saroeun said the border police found abandoned weapons as well as the body of one Thai soldier and reported that another was believed to have been critically injured during the fighting. The body of the dead soldier was returned to Thailand on Saturday evening.
Thai soldiers were allowed back into the area yesterday accompanied by 20 Cambodian border police to visit the battle site, Provincial Governor Khay Sokha said. The 25 Thais were not allowed to bring any weapons during their investigation of the area.
Mr Sokha called the incident a “misunderstanding” and said that both sides are working to maintain peace.
On Jan 24, both sides exchanged rockets and gunfire for roughly 10 minutes as they clashed in Preah Vihear province, about 20 km to the east of the Preah Vihear temple.
According to the official Thai News Agency, two Thai soldiers were injured but a Thai government spokesman said no injuries were reported and downplayed any possible affects on diplomatic relations, which were downgraded in November.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said local military commanders have met with Thai counterparts and have so far managed to prevent further clashes. He said officials are still discussing the exact reason for the confrontation.
“We are still investigating the event,” he said, adding there have been no reports of casualties from the Cambodian side.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn did not return a request for comment.
The fighting comes on the heels of political turmoil in Thailand as the neighboring country prepares for the expected verdict on Feb 26 in the asset seizure case of the fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was named an economic advisor to the Cambodian government in October.
The Reuters news agency reported last week that Thai army Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a close associate of Mr Thaksin, has made threats against judges and anticorruption officials working on the case.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is now urging authorities to consider taking action against Mr Khattiya, saying they should look into his remarks and decide if they are indeed threats, the English-language newspaper the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that problems in Bangkok often reverberate along the boundary of the two countries, with Thai authorities exploiting the situation for political gains.
He stated however that he did not foresee the situation escalating into a war with Thailand.
“We just maintain peace as much as we can…. We do not urge any encroachment on neighboring countries,” he said, although adding Thailand has no right to send its troops into Cambodian territory.