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Thai, Khmer generals talk

Publisher Radio Free Asia
Publication Date 15 October 2008
Cite as Radio Free Asia, Thai, Khmer generals talk, 15 October 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/490ef03519.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
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2008-10-15

Thailand and Cambodia take steps to ease tensions after a deadly clash.

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia: Cambodian soldiers sit with captured Thai soldiers near the Preah Vihear temple, 15 October 2008. AFPPREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia: Cambodian soldiers sit with captured Thai soldiers near the Preah Vihear temple, 15 October 2008. AFP

BANGKOK and PHNOM PENH – Thai and Cambodian generals have held talks in a bid to resolve a territorial dispute that erupted in a deadly exchange of gunfire.

Reports say the two militaries have agreed in talks in Thailand's Sisaket province, just across the border from Cambodia, to conduct joint border patrols.

An hour-long gun battle on Wednesday killed two Cambodians and wounded several others from both sides.

The volley of rockets and small arms fire occurred intermittently over two hours on a disputed area of land next to Preah Vihear temple, 11th century ruins 590 kms (370 miles) east of Bangkok.

A phone call Wednesday to Cambodian troops at the site was interrupted by gunfire and shouts of "They're shooting! They're shooting!" before the line was disconnected.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong confirmed that two soldiers were killed and at least seven soldiers from both sides were injured in the clash.

Lieut.-Gen. Wiboonsak Neeparn, commander of Thailand's northeastern forces, said five Thai soldiers were wounded in the incident, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hor Namhong said 10 Thai soldiers had been captured by the Cambodian military, but the Thai military said none of its soldiers were missing, according to Reuters.

The United States, European Union, China, and representatives from the United Nations urged restraint in the wake of the clash. Indonesia has offered to mediate talks between the two nations.

Trading blame

Virasakdi Futrakul, permanent secretary of the Thai foreign ministry, told Southeast Asian diplomats in Bangkok on Wednesday that Cambodia was responsible for the clash.

"Cambodian soldiers and the Cambodian authorities decided to resort to the use of force contrary to the agreements that both foreign ministers made, and therefore this decision to resort to force is deplorable," he said.

Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh that Cambodia would lodge a complaint with the United Nations Security Council regarding what he called "repeated and very serious armed provocations by Thailand."

"The gunfire between Cambodia and Thailand was in Cambodia's territory. Thai troops opened fire at our troops first," he said.

Since the clash, military officials in Cambodia have cited stepped-up security along the northwest border of the country.

"[The Thai army] has told their people to move further away from the border into Thailand because of the fighting," said Cambodian liaison officer Toch Rah, near the checkpoint town of Cham Sangam, some 100 kms (60 miles) west of where the skirmish took place.

Visas stopped

According to officials who work at the Poipet International Border Crossing in western Cambodia, Khmer checkpoint officials suspended the stamping of visas for entry into Thailand on Wednesday over fears of insecurity in Thailand.

Several Khmer vendors in Thailand's Long Koeu market cited worries about the increased presence of Thai troops around the border.

"Many Khmer have left the Thailand market. We see many black-clad Thai soldiers with modern weapons, and they have expelled some Khmer [from Thailand]," one vendor said.

Cambodians who crossed into Cambodia from Thailand said Thai troops have been setting up several "large-scale" weapons aimed at the main concentrations of Cambodian soldiers since Tuesday.

Sam Chit, deputy police commissioner in charge of border affairs, said government forces have been deployed at the border in western Cambodia's Banteay Meanchey province to counter the build-up of Thai troops.

"Around 10 or 11 a.m. yesterday approximately 100 Thai troops appeared [on the border] opposite a Khmer school," he said.

Residents in the province have been packing up their belongings and moving away from the border in fear of further confrontations, witnesses said.

Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornviwat warned Thais traveling in Cambodia to leave the country at once and said he would issue an order to evacuate travelers if necessary.

Long-simmering dispute

The clash was the first deadly fighting since July, when UNESCO approved Cambodia's bid to make Preah Vihear temple a U.N. World Heritage site. The decision ignited simmering bilateral tension, with both countries claiming land around the temple and sending troops to the border.

The International Court of Justice determined in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple complex is Cambodian but the land around the temple is disputed.

In July, after the ruins were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, control of the land became a rallying cry for anti-government protesters in Thailand, prompting a deployment of Thai soldiers to the border.

Mounting tensions led to a short firefight on Oct. 3 that injured at least three when several Thai troops entered a disputed area near the temple.

Original reporting by Sophal Mony and Savyouth for RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Written and produced in English for the Web by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Copyright notice: Copyright © 2006, RFA. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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