Thai Soldiers Firing at Night, Officials Say

Military officials said yesterday that Thailand is attempting to provoke Cambodia by firing weapons by night at Cambodian positions surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

On the evenings of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Thai troops stationed opposite Ta Sim and Chak Chreng fired at Cam­bodian positions with machine guns and grenades, said Colonel Kan Lorn, deputy commander of RCAF intervention battalion nine.

“They provoke fighting by firing on us almost every hour and sometimes through the night. But we refrain from responding,” he said. “Maybe they are scared of their own shadows, but if there is a big bomb we will promptly respond in self defense.”

Thani Thongphakdi, the Thai foreign ministry spokesman could not be reached yesterday to verify Cambodia’s claims of nighttime shootings from Thailand.

Fighting broke out between the two countries on the night of Feb 4 and lasted until the morning of Feb 7. During that time, at least five Cambodian and two Thai soldiers died, according to media reports and officials. Cambodian rockets have also reportedly destroyed a school and portions of rubber plantations inside Thailand.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen amplified the magnitude of the tensions between the two countries by calling events at Preah Vihear temple a “real war.”

Both sides have also entered into a heated exchange of words over the use of cluster bombs during the fighting. There are still thousands of people on both sides of the border who have fled their homes for safety and are living in makeshift refugee camps.

On Monday, the Foreign Mini­sters from both Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to convene with the UN Security Coun­cil in New York in order to present their case on the most recent bout of fighting. However, there is still no sign that either side is thinking of scaling back its military presence at the border.

Military officials said yesterday that Cambodian armed forces are busy reinforcing their position around the Preah Vihear temple by upgrading bunkers around the 11th-century temple.

“The forces have been ordered to be on alert and upgrade their bunkers as they have seen Thai troops building up every day,” said an RCAF colonel on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Thai newspaper the Bangkok Post reported Thai Lieutenant General Thawatchai Samutsakhon as saying that Thai troops at the border would remain at their current levels until further notice.

“I have been informed about a military build up on the Thai side and we are well prepared,” said RCAF deputy commander-in-chief Hing Bun Heang yesterday from the frontline, declining to comment on any Cambodian military maneuvers in the area.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Thursday that Cambodian armed forces have been “reinforcing their positions in many areas along the Thai-Cam­bodian border.”

“The Royal Thai Government seeks the understanding of both Thai and Cambodian people that the government and people of Thailand harbor no ill will toward the people of Cambodia,” the statement said. “The Royal Thai Govern­ment therefore calls upon the citizens of both countries to exercise patience and restraint in the face of any provocation that could lead to tension and armed clashes between the two countries.”

Fighting between Cambodia and have been at a standoff over a disputed 4.6-square-km stretch of the border since 2008 when Une­s­co inscribed the temple on the world heritage.

Thai newspaper the Bangkok Post reported yesterday that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has called on Unesco to delist the temple as a means of diffusing the border conflict between the two countries.

The fighting has prompted the Australian Embassy to elevate its travel warnings regarding Preah Vihear and the surrounding area to “Reconsider your need to travel.”

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