Thai Soldier Loses Leg to Preah Vihear Mine

A Thai soldier had his leg blown off by a landmine Thurs­day at the Preah Vihear temple, as a group of 30 Thai paramilitaries was patrolling the disputed border area, officials said.

Following the mine explosion, 10 to 15 more Thai soldiers brief­ly crossed into the disputed area but encountered Cambodian soldiers and turned back about 45 minutes later, Council of Minis­ters spokes­man Phay Siphan said. Cambodian authorities had accused Thailand last week of a similar trespass, with 100 soldiers eventually turning away.

“A group of Thais with paramilitary uniforms stepped on a landmine that was planted during the civil war,” Phay Siphan said by telephone from the temple. The incident occurred at 8:20 am in dense forest at Veal Entry, or Eagle Field, about 500 to 600 meters inside Cambodia, he added. Thailand, which has a different interpretation of past border treaties, considers the area to be part of its territory.

“One Thai lost one leg, and during the landmine explosion, we heard a few rounds of shooting to cover and remove their soldiers from the area,” Phay Siphan said. Soldiers heard on the radio that more Thais had been less seriously injured, but that could not be confirmed, he said. The injured man, identified in a Council of Ministers news release as Chalong Mody, was removed by helicopter about 20 minutes after the explosion, he added.

The Thai Embassy said it had been unofficially notified but was still verifying the facts. The Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry and a military spokesman in Bangkok did not respond to a request for comment, but a Thai military official confirmed the incident to The Associated Press news agency.

Since the start of the military standoff last July, it was the third reported incident of Thai soldiers being wounded by landmines in the area that is littered with explosive remains of Cambodia’s civil war.

In a speech Tuesday in Preah Sihanouk province, Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke out against Thai incursions into territory Cambodia considers as its own, warning he had already given troops orders to fight back. “If you continue to encroach, I will attack you,” the prime minister said, referring to Thai forces.

Phay Siphan said that he was at the temple to receive Wednesday a delegation of Thai parliamentarians who came to see for themselves the disputed area and their troops.

“I had a chance to explain to them about our nation’s policy,” Phay Siphan said, adding that he had reminded them of the 2000 memorandum of understanding where both countries promised not to trespass on each other’s territory.

RCAF Military Region 4 Deputy Chief of Staff Men Ly was less diplomatic when describing the situation.

“Armed confrontation will take place again if Thai troops continue to cross over the disputed area into Cambodia,” he said by telephone.

(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)

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