Thailand closed four border crossings Thursday evening in retaliation for a shooting incident between Cambodian troops and a Thai helicopter last week, a government official said yesterday, ahead of a top-level military meeting between the neighbors.
Brigadier General Lo Mithona, deputy head of the Thai-Cambodian Relations Office for the National Military Police, said Thailand unilaterally shut off three crossings in Pursat province and a fourth in Battambang province after Thursday’s incident.
“Thai border soldiers closed the border gates since the shooting occurred up to now. We don’t know when they will reopen,” he said.
On Thursday, Koh Kong provincial border police chief Chhem Nem said Cambodian soldiers had shot at and chased off a Thai helicopter that tried to land in Mondol Seima district earlier in the day. Mr. Nem said the helicopter returned fire before heading back across the border, but injured no one.
A statement issued yesterday by the Defense Ministry repeated the account and claimed that the Cambodian soldiers fired warning shots first.
But according to a report in the Bangkok Post yesterday, the Thai Marine Corps insisted that its helicopter, a Bell 121, was delivering food to troops stationed 50 meters from the border when it came under fire from Cambodia. The fire reportedly hit the helicopter’s main rotor, forcing an emergency landing.
The Post also reported that local Thai and Cambodian military commanders would meet yesterday to discuss ways to prevent a repeat incident.
Kim Rotana, deputy immigration police chief at the Cham Yean border checkpoint in Koh Kong, confirmed that provincial RCAF commander Brigadier General Yorn Min had led a delegation into Thailand at about 2 pm yesterday.
“Today, at our international checkpoint I saw…Brig. Gen. Yorn Min go with his group to discuss the incident in Thailand,” he said.
By late yesterday afternoon, however, he said the meeting had yet to end.
The impromptu meeting came just ahead of today’s start of the latest General Border Committee meeting, a periodic military-to-military conclave between the neighbors for discussing security issues along their shared border.
Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the committee’s secretariat would meet first to set the agenda for Wednesday’s main meeting between Defense Minister Tea Banh and his Thai counterpart, Yutthasak Sasiprapa.
The spokesman said the pair would probably not discuss the helicopter incident and were more likely to focus on how to move ahead with an order from the International Court of Justice for both Thailand and Cambodia to pull their troops back from disputed border territory around Preah Vihear temple.
Following seven days of deadly fighting over the disputed land in February, the UN’s top court drew a demilitarized zone around the area in July and ordered both sides to withdraw their troops immediately. Neither side has yet complied with the order, though this week’s talks are hoped to bring Bangkok and Phnom Penh closer to a plan for making it happen.
Thai officials in Bangkok could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)