>Diplomatic letters fly; Thai, Cambodian soldiers confer next week after border clash

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Teck Mieng (C), a Cambodian soldier injured during a clash with Thai soldiers, is seen at Phnom Trop mountain near the Thai border in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, October 4, 2008. Cambodia protested to Thailand on Saturday about a border shooting incident in which three solders were wounded and said in a letter to the Thai ambassador that such “intentional armed provocation” could lead to conflict. Two Thai soldiers and one Cambodian soldier were injured in what was the first clash in the disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple since the two countries agreed to pull back in August after a serious confrontation. REUTERS/Stringer
Cambodia soldiers sit on Phnom Trop mountain near the Thai border in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, October 4, 2008. Cambodia protested to Thailand on Saturday about a border shooting incident in which three solders were wounded and said in a letter to the Thai ambassador that such “intentional armed provocation” could lead to conflict. Two Thai soldiers and one Cambodian soldier were injured in what was the first clash in the disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple since the two countries agreed to pull back in August after a serious confrontation. REUTERS/Stringer

Diplomatic letters fly; Thai, Cambodian soldiers confer next week after border clash

October 5, 2008
PNA/TNA

UBON RATCHATHANI, Oct. 4 — Thai soldiers guarding disputed border areas along the Thai-Cambodian border have been ordered to be “extra cautious in performing their duty” following Friday’s clash which left two Thai and one Cambodian soldiers wounded as senior officers of both armies are expected to meet next week to create better understanding, Lt-Gen. Wiboonsak Neeparn, Thailand’s Second Army Region commander said on Saturday.

Foreign Ministry Permanent secretary Virasakdi Futrakul invited Cambodia’s charge d’affairs in Bangkok to lodge a protest letter, following Cambodia’s presentation of a letter of protest in Phnom Penh earlier Saturday. The Cambodian foreign ministry letter to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh protested the Thai action in the border clash.

According to media reports from the Khmer capital, Phnom Penh said that Cambodian troops had only returned fire in self defence and went on to warn that “armed provocation by Thai soldiers could lead to very grave consequences, including full scale armed hostility”.

Gen. Wiboonsak, who oversees security affairs in northeastern Thailand, told journalists after visiting the two wounded soldiers at an army hospital in Ubon Ratchathani that the shooting took place in a disputed area of Kantharalak district bordering Cambodia, and gave assurances that military officers on both sides would deal responsibly with the situation.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said in a statement, issued Friday night, quoting Thai military sources as saying that the exchange of gunfire took place at about 3.45 pm when a Thai military unit patrolling the border about one kilometre west of the ancient Preah Vihear temple encountered a Cambodian military unit.

The Thai soldiers said the Cambodian troops had encroached about one kilometre into Thai territory, the statement said. Negotiations asking the Cambodian troops to withdraw as requested by the Thais failed.

“As the Thai military unit was moving out of the area to report to their commander, the Cambodian military unit opened fire at them,” according to the Thai ministry statement.

“The Thai side was therefore compelled to return fire,” the statement noted.

But Gen. Wiboonsak described the clash as an “accident” as Cambodian troops were rotating personnel at that time and Thai soldiers misjudged that they had encroached the Thai territory and the clash ensued.

The incident will be brought before next week’s discussion between military personnel of the two countries, he said, adding that Thai troops would not be reinforced in the disputed area.

He said the two Thai wounded soldiers were now out of danger and are expected to stay at the hospital for one week.

Both Thai and Cambodian officials said the area was calm Saturday as an investigation was underway to determine how the incident occurred since troops on both sides have been ordered not to fire.

Tensions between the two neighbours flared up in July after Preah Vihear temple, which belongs to Cambodia, was awarded world heritage status by the UNESCO, angering Thai nationalists who still claim ownership of the 11th century temple.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, but the surrounding land remains in dispute.

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