WASSANA NANUAM and ANUCHA CHAROENPO
Thailand yesterday shrugged off Phnom Penh’s ultimatum for its soldiers to leave disputed areas near the Preah Vihear temple and accused Cambodia of laying new landmines on the border.
The decision to maintain troop levels in readiness for a confrontation to defend the country was reached in talks between supreme commander Gen Songkitti Jakkabat, army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda, navy commander Adm Kamthon Phumhiran and air force chief ACM Ithaporn Supawong.
They met after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an ultimatum on Monday for Thailand to withdraw its troops by yesterday or risk a “large-scale armed conflict”.
Prior to the meeting, the military leaders also held talks with Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat, both stressing the importance of using dialogue to solve the problem.
Security sources said Gen Anupong approved two military operation plans, Chakkri Phuwadol and 512, under which troops from the 6th Infantry Division would be used as the main force.
The navy has despatched its ships to patrol Thai waters off Trat province while the air force has put jet fighters and C-130 aircraft on stand-by.
“The military leaders insist the armed forces are prepared in terms of troop deployment in the areas, back-up forces and weapons capabilities to protect our sovereignty,” army spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.
Second Army commander Lt-Gen Wibulsak Neepal has been assigned to take charge of the border situation and cooperate with Suranaree Task Force chief Maj-Gen Kanok Netrakhavesana.
Col Sansern said the military was ready to evacuate Thai nationals in Cambodia, but any such decision would be made by the government.
The Foreign Ministry yesterday urged Thai travellers to Cambodia to closely monitor the situation and advised Thai nationals already there to contact the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh for advisory and situation updates.
Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat also sent a stern warning to Cambodia, saying: “If Cambodia does resort to the use of force in accordance with its so-called ultimatum, Thailand will exercise its right of self-defence to protect our de-mining personnel and Thailand’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The spat is over a 4.6 sq km disputed area between Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and the Preah Vihear temple.
The latest border incident occurred on Oct 6 when two Thai paramilitary rangers stepped on landmines while patrolling at Phu Ma Khua, about 2.5km west of the ancient Hindu temple.
Phu Ma Khua, which is in the overlapping area, was the spot where Thai soldiers on patrol clashed with Cambodian troops on Oct 3.
The ministry said Thai de-mining personnel had found Russian-made PMN2 landmines in the area, which the Thai armed forces have never used or possessed.
“The royal Thai government believes that the landmines were planted after the incident [on Oct 3],” the ministry said in a statement. “Thailand views this development with great alarm.”