In a fourth day of fighting, Thai forces renewed artillery fire in Oddar Meanchey province at about 6 pm yesterday, launching hundreds of rockets over several hours and briefly advancing foot soldiers onto Cambodian soil near the temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabei in Banteay Ampil district, officials said.
The Defense Ministry also announced yesterday that shortly before 2 pm, two Thai military aircraft had flown along the Cambodian border over the temples.
“It caused the situation to be more tense in the area,” the statement said, adding that a handful of Thai shells had landed in Kokmon commune, more than 20 km inside Cambodia at about 2 pm.
There were no immediate reports of Cambodian casualties.
The reports could not be independently confirmed, but the weekend’s violence may have scotched plans for Indonesia’s foreign minister to visit Phnom Penh yesterday as part of regional mediation efforts.
Located near the fighting, Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said Cambodian forces had not returned artillery fire, but had used small arms to repel Thai troops who entered Cambodian soil.
Government officials on both sides, meanwhile, raised their estimates of the number of civilians displaced in the fighting.
Cambodian officials placed the number of refugees on their side of the border above 17,000.
The Thai government has never agreed to the terms publicly. Taking the military’s lead, it has vehemently refused to give them access to the disputed area around the temple itself.
Michael Tene, spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, attributed the cancellation to a “scheduling problem” he declined to explain and denied that Thailand had ever agreed to the terms.
“I don’t recall any backtracking,” he said, insisting that “intense” negotiations were still ongoing.
Mr Tene also said Asean was still up to the task of helping to settling the border tensions, but called the latest fighting “a serious setback” to its efforts.
Ultimately, he said, it was up to each side to honor the commitments it has already made.
“For Asean’s efforts to succeed…there should be political will from both sides to resolve the problem peacefully.”
Mr Natalegawa’s trip had not been rescheduled, Mr Tene added.
Despite the first extended break in fighting, meanwhile, villagers continued streaming into Oddar Meanchey’s Samroang City yesterday.
Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Disaster Management Committee, said 17,262 Cambodians had fled the fighting since Friday, topping the number displaced during February’s fighting in Preah Vihear.
“The number is higher and it is more complicated, because they now come from many different places,” he said.
“Almost all of the villagers have fled from their homes and only leave one man in each family behind to take care of their belongings,” said Orn Vy, the chief of Banteay Ampil district’s Kokmon commune.
He said Thai rocket fire Sunday night razed one home in the commune and damaged three others.
Thai officials could not be reached yesterday. In media reports, they say 27,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Thailand.
Lieutenant General Chin Chanpor, an RCAF commander stationed in Oddar Meanchey, said a Thai jet had entered Cambodian airspace yesterday but denied local media reports that they had bombed the vicinity of Ta Krabei temple.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Chhum Sucheat also denied the reports.
He also denied Thai media reports that Cambodia was sending reinforcements to the border.
“They have wrong information,” he said. “We have enough on the ground to protect the border.”
The Defense Ministry has since Friday made repeated claims of its own that Thailand had fired both cluster munitions and unspecified “toxic gas” at Cambodia.
Lt Gen Sucheat said he had no details and was still waiting on a report from the Cambodian Mine Action Center, the government’s demining arm.
CMAC director general Heng Ratana said his staff had still not confirmed the claims but were being hampered in their investigation by the fighting.
“So far, we do not have sufficient evidence that there are cluster [munitions]…or gas,” he said yesterday. “We are still there, but security is not open yet so we still don’t have access to certain areas.”