BANGKOK POST AND AGENCIES
SI SA KET : The army has brought in 500 reinforcements and heavy weapons and says it is ready for battle, while the Foreign Ministry claims it is prepared to take Cambodia to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice over sovereignty of the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple.
The separate army and ministry warnings came after skirmishes yesterday in areas between Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district and Preah Vihear in Cambodia, which escalated border tensions.
Fighting broke out in the afternoon at two flash-points at Phu Ma Khua and Pha Mor E Daeng near the ancient Hindu temple.
Seven Thai troops were wounded while two Cambodian soldiers were killed and seven others injured, according to the army. Cambodia said it captured 10 Thai troops, a claim denied by Thai military officials.
Cambodian charge d’affaires to Bangkok Ouk Sophoin was summoned by permanent secretary for foreign affairs Virasakdi Futrakul and handed an “aide memoire” accusing Cambodia of initiating the clashes.
The fighting has prompted the ministry to urge Thais in Cambodia to leave the country. Thai Airways International has prepared large aircraft to evacuate all Thais in Cambodia if the situation worsens.
There are about 1,000 Thais in Phnom Penh and about 500 in Siem Reap, according to the ministry.
Second Army commander Lt-Gen Wibulsak Neepal said Cambodia fired first into Thai bases, prompting Thai troops to retaliate. He said his unit has adjusted operational plans and redeployed troops to handle any situation, noting the military is ready to retaliate against any further aggression.
But army spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda has ordered troops to be cautious about retaliation.
“In regards to military retaliation, the army chief has instructed the troops not to escalate any fighting. That means if Cambodia uses small weapons, we will not retaliate with artillery to avoid escalating the fighting,” he said.
Col Sansern said the fighting erupted about 2.30pm when Thai troops encountered Cambodian soldiers at Huay Ta Maria in Phu Ma Khua. The Cambodian soldiers were told to leave but they responded with small arms fire into a Thai base. Several kilometres away at Pha Mor E Daeng, Cambodian soldiers also fired into a Thai base.
Col Sansern said the fighting at both sites was brief.
Security around Ta Muan Thom temple and Ta Kwai temple in Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak district was being stepped up with more than 500 troops and artillery from the sixth infantry division based in Ubon Ratchathani..
Cambodian Foreign Minster Hor Namhong said in Phnom Penh that “the gunfire between Cambodia and Thailand was in Cambodia’s territory. Thai troops opened fire at our troops first”.
“Cambodia strongly protests against these repeated and very serious armed provocations by Thailand which will lead to large-scale armed hostilities between the two countries,” he said, adding a complaint would be lodged with the UN Security Council.
Hor Namhong rejected Thai figures of the casualties, saying two Cambodian soldiers were killed and two wounded.
Tension at the border rose after Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat returned from a visit to Phnom Penh on Monday during which he met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Hor Namhong.
Afterwards, Hun Sen gave Thailand an ultimatum to leave the disputed area that day.
Mr Virasakdi said during the talks with Mr Sompong, Hun Sen had demanded Thailand withdraw all troops from the 4.6-square-kilometre overlapping area. He threatened to take the case to the Security Council and the International Court of Justice on grounds that Thailand had invaded his country.
Mr Virasakdi dismissed the threat. “Don’t think that we are scared. We are ready to defend our position. A team of international legal experts has been hired and is ready,” he said after meeting with the Cambodian diplomat.
The army spokesman said the situation was under control as Thai and Cambodian commanders in the areas remained in contact and were expected to negotiate to resolve the conflict.
Hor Namhong said a scheduled meeting between the two countries on the border dispute would go ahead as planned today.