PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AFP) – Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged gunfire Wednesday along their border, a Cambodia army commander said, as a row over a disputed patch of land appeared to be escalating.
“Cambodian and Thai troops are opening fire at each other now,” Brigadier General Bun Thean told AFP.
Thailand is gathering troops close to a contested patch of land on the border with Cambodia near to a disputed temple, a Cambodian military commander at the scene said Wednesday.
Bun Thean told AFP by telephone that about 500 troops were massing on the Thai side of the frontier near a small patch of disputed land about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the 11th century Preah Vihear temple ruins.
“They are coming near now. They are just about 50 to 60 meters (165 to 195 feet) away from the area,” Bun Thean said.
No Thai officials were available to confirm any fresh deployment of troops, but Thailand’s Channel Seven — a military-run television station — also reported Wednesday that both sides had reinforced soldiers in the area.
Tensions between the neighbours flared again this week after failed talks on Monday aimed at cooling a months-long stand off over land near, a United Nations cultural heritage site which is in Cambodian territory.
On Tuesday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an ultimatum to the Thai side after he accused 84 Thai soldiers of entering one of a handful of disputed areas — leave before midday or risk conflict.
Cambodian officials insisted that the troops did leave before the deadline, but Thailand’s foreign minister said they were standing their ground.
Witnesses along the border said the situation was a little calmer on Wednesday, despite the increase in troops.
“The situation is calmer. Nothing has changed yet,” Cambodian Brigadier General Yim Pim told AFP.
The spat between the neighbours first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering some Thai nationalists who still claim ownership of the site.
The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the disputed area.