Thailand, Cambodia Trade Blame on Border Shooting

Thailand and Cambodia issued letters Saturday strongly protesting Friday’s armed skirmish in the border area near Preah Vihear temple, with each side blaming the other for starting the incident that left one Cambodian and two Thai soldiers injured. Foreign Minister Hor Namhong summoned the Thai ambassador Saturday to protest what Cambodia considers a “serious armed provocation” on the part of Thailand, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

“Hor Namhong told the Thai ambassador that Cambodia demands that the royal government of Thailand avoid such incident from recurring in the future,” Koy Kuong said.

“Such armed provocation by Thai soldiers could lead to very grave consequences, including full scale armed hostility,” warned a letter dated Saturday that Koy Kuong said Hor Namhong handed to Thai Ambassador Viraphand Vacharathit.

The letter states that at 3:30 pm Friday, Thai soldiers entered Cambodian territory near the Preah Vihear temple and fired an M-79 grenade launcher at Cambodian troops stationed there. They returned fire in self-defense and one RCAF soldier was injured, the letter states.

But according to a copy of a Saturday letter from Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Cambodian government, Cambodian troops entered Thai territory 1 km west of Preah Vihear temple.

According to the letter, four unarmed Thai paramilitary rangers went to the Cambodian troops to negotiate their withdrawal. As the RCAF soldiers radioed their commander, the Thai rangers overheard him ordering his troops to open fire. The Cambodian troops then fired their guns into the air, prompting the Thai rangers to leave the area.

“[T]he Cambodian soldiers suddenly opened fire at the Thai rangers who were unarmed, prompting the Thai unit stationed nearby to return fire to protect the said Thai personnel in self-defense,” the Thai letter read.

“[T]he shooting by the Cambodian troops against the unarmed Thai para-military rangers is regarded as a brutal and aggressive act and is contrary to the spirit of friendly relations between Cambodia and Thailand,” it added.

“The incident occurred in Thai territory,” said Chaturont Chaiyakam, first secretary of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.

“They returned to the Thai position, and the Cambodians shot them in the back,” Chaturont said, adding that two Thai rangers were injured.

Cambodian Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan claimed that the version of events espoused by the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry was not that held by the Thai military officials stationed at the disputed border. The local Thai commander had met Saturday with RCAF Major General Srey Dek, chief of the Preah Vihear operation, Phay Siphan said, and had apologized after recognizing that his troops were at fault in provoking the incident on Cambodian land.

“Thais locally…asked pardon [of] the Cambodians that it shouldn’t have happened like this,” Phay Siphan said.

Srey Dek could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Preah Vihear Provincial Deputy Governor Sar Thavy also claimed that the Thai commander had apologized. Thai officials could not be reached for comment concerning the allegation.

But despite their different takes on the incident, both the Cambodian and Thai sides said negotiations on the border dispute would not be affected.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s is still scheduled to visit Phnom Penh on Oct 13, according to both Chaturont and Koy Kuong.

“The leaders of Thai [and] Cambodian ministries will meet soon to talk about this issue, but I don’t think there’s any tension now,” Chaturont said.

RCAF Region 4 commander Chea Morn said the situation at the temple was stable Sunday.

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