A tense but so far bloodless standoff exists between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in Preah Vihear province after a Thai military force allegedly crossed 300 meters over the border earlier this month, senior Cambodian military officials claimed Monday.
“We have ordered our soldiers not to move back any more and wait until a [resolution] is reached by both sides,” said Chea Sovann, the financial officer for RCAF division 2 based in Preah Vihear.
More than 300 RCAF soldiers from division 2 were forced a half km back from their posts last week when Thai soldiers, supported by tanks and helicopters, crossed the border, according to General Chea Saran, the army’s deputy infantry commander. Hundreds of Thai soldiers have allegedly set up camp there, Chea Saran said.
“We are facing very close but nothing has happened yet,” said Lath Sokha, chief of political affairs for Division 2, which is posted in the Choam Te area of the province.
“But we do not allow them to move farther on our land,” Lath Sokha said.
A Thai diplomatic official downplayed the reports, saying Monday he spoke with several senior Cambodian military officials who said there was no orchestrated move made on the border by Thai soldiers.
Though he acknowledged he did not know exactly what happened in Preah Vihear, the official called last week’s incident a “misunderstanding” between Thai and Cambodian military, who he said may have gotten into a dispute over some kind of “business deal.”
The Thai official said he did not know what kind of business arrangement the soldiers may have had, but said the invasion claims could be possible retaliation for a financial slight.
“It is a made-up story,” he said. “Someone has accused the Thais of this.”
Chea Saran said that twice before last week’s incident, Thai military helicopters flew approximately 5 km over the border to allegedly check Cambodian military positions.
“We were going to shoot [the helicopters] but we received orders from our top commander to do nothing to them,” Chea Sovann said.
Var Kim Hong, chief of a Cambodian commission for border disputes, would not comment Monday on the incident but said he would go to Preah Vihear to investigate the army’s allegations.
And while army officers say they will fight rather than retreat farther into Cambodia, co-minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Monday he did not think the situation would escalate to that level. “The border disputes are being negotiated.”
Despite headway made last year between the Thai and Cambodian governments, the ill-defined and easily breached border remains a contentious issue. However, Ministry of Interior officials reported only three disputes on the Thai border between civilians last year—all of which were resolved.
Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said during a visit 10 days ago to Siem Reap that an important joint Cambodian-Thai border committee would meet later this year. He said which maps to use as a basis of negotiation has not yet been decided. “There’s a lot of work to do,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)