Thai Troops Hurt Border Firefight, Gov’t Says

At least four Thai soldiers were injured on Saturday when brief episodes of fighting broke out on the Oddar Meanchey province border, the defense ministry said yesterday.

Thai and Cambodian troops held talks on Saturday afternoon and the situation returned to relative calm, according to Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the defense ministry.

The latest armed clash, involving exchanges of small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, came as RCAF officials said yesterday that tension is also rising at another border area in Preah Vihear province, where they claimed Thai troops have set up tents inside a disputed zone near Phnom Trop.

Thai officials were unavailable yesterday. However, Thai media reports claimed that Thai forces reported no casualties but that one Thai army ranger was missing and that a search was underway.

According to Lt Gen Sucheat, Saturday’s fighting first broke out just after 8 am when black-uniformed Thai soldiers attempted to force RCAF soldiers from their position in Samraong City’s O’Smach commune.

“We rejected their forcing. Then they left and shoot into our military base using M-79 [grenade] launchers and our soldiers use self defense and fire back at them using B-40 and B-42” grenade launchers, Lt Gen Sucheat said.

The fighting lasted 15 minutes before resuming about an hour later for a further five minutes, Lt Gen Sucheat said, citing military sources who claimed that there had been at least four Thai troops hit but that no Cambodian soldiers were injured.

“We found Thai military weapons, one Thai military cap with blood [on it] and one Thai soldier’s radio and we suspect at least four Thai soldiers were killed [or] injured,” he said.

The English-language Bangkok Post yesterday cited a Thai military source who claimed the fighting started when a patrol unit found Cambodian troops entering a so-called “disputed area” to build a village.

The Thai News Agency said Cambodian forces had “ambushed” the Thai forces after they discovered the Cambodians’ attempt to build houses and that a search was underway to locate a missing Thai soldier.

Lt Gen Sucheat said yesterday that the dwellings in question were old houses for border guards that were not under construction. He also said that the Thai forces had opened fire first and that the incident had happened on Cambodian soil.

“The military base at the patrolling front line has been set up for many years,” Lt Gen Sucheat said.

Chhim Sivuth, head of the Oddar Meanchey department of inspection, said that the Thai soldiers had gone about 500 meters inside Cambodian territory and that the Thai forces fired two mortars into Cambodian territory.

“Our RCAF soldiers are standing by since [Saturday] and are following the Thai soldiers’ actions but they dare not come into our territory again,” Mr Sivuth said.

In Preah Vihear province yesterday, an RCAF officer stationed at the border Thai forces had caused tensions to rise by setting up tents inside a “joint-patrol zone” inside the disputed sector of the border on Friday afternoon.

“It was an area that was patrolled [by Thai and RCAF troops]…where no one has ever set up tents,” said Captain Men Saravuth of the 3rd RCAF Division, 8th Brigade at nearby hilltop of Phnom Trop.

Lt Gen Sucheat said that 12 Thai soldiers arrived at 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon and had not yet moved their camp.

“Our deputy military commander Bun Theng negotiated until 7 pm on Saturday, but he is yet to find a good solution…. The Thai division commander said he does not know about his soldiers wanting to set up their tents” inside the disputed sector, Lt Gen Sucheat said, adding that negotiations were to continue.

Saturday’s violence came hours after Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Anupong Paochinda was put in charge of peacekeeping forces charged with suppressing violence in antigovernment protests that have convulsed Bangkok. As fighting broke out on Saturday, Gen Anupong held an emergency operations meeting with regimental commanders, according to The Nation.

An attempt to clear a protest in Bangkok on April 10 left 24 dead and hundreds wounded. The protracted protests have provoked open speculation about the fragility of the current Thai government’s hold on power.

Committee for Free and Fair Elections Executive Director Koul Panha said yesterday that border incidents sometimes coincided with political turmoil, as there currently is in Bangkok, but said that without detailed information he could not comment any further.

“One thing that is certain is that the Cambodian people are affected by this type of conflict as it raises security concerns,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)


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