via CAAI News Media
Monday, 19 April 2010 15:03 Thet Sambath
CAMBODIAN and Thai troops exchanged fire twice along the contentious border on Saturday after Thai troops confronted their Cambodian counterparts over a settlement built in territory claimed by both sides, military and government officials said.
Leu Chandara, deputy chief of the Thailand-Cambodia relations office at the Poipet border crossing, said Sunday that the incidents occurred near Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Smach commune, in Samraong district, with the Thais opening fire with rifles and M79 grenade launchers.
Cambodian troops, he said, responded with B-40 rockets and AK-47s.
Thai soldiers “ordered the Cambodian soldiers to remove their small, wooden houses, but our soldiers refused these demands because the houses were built in Cambodian territory”, Leu Chandara said. He added that four Thai troops were injured during a 15-minute firefight at around 7:45am on Saturday and another five-minute clash around 9:30am.
A Thai military source, however, disputed Leu Chandara’s account, saying no one had been injured on the Thai side.
“The only information I got is that there was some kind of misunderstanding between the two sides and there were no casualties,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous. Tension has since eased, he added, after a “productive” meeting of commanders from both sides.
Citing another source in the Thai military, the Bangkok Post reported Sunday that Cambodian forces were first to open fire after being confronted while constructing homes and refusing to leave the area.
One Thai soldier was missing after the clashes, the source said, and both sides subsequently reinforced their troop presence in the area.
Chea Morn, commander of Military Region 4, said Sunday that the settlement at the heart of the latest disagreement between Cambodia and Thailand was at the site of a military outpost that the Kingdom has maintained for years, and that has only now attracted criticism from the Thais.
“They have complained and demanded many times that we remove this military post, but we refused. We built it 10 years ago, and it is not a new one,” Chea Morn said. “They shot at us first after our soldiers refused to allow them to remove our military post.”
Despite the conflict on Saturday, Chea Morn described the situation at the border as “calm as normal” after negotiations between local military commanders, denying that Cambodia had reinforced its troops in the area.
“We negotiated with each other after the clash and agreed to return the military situation to normal. We agreed not to add more troops or move troops and have each side stay at their current position,” Chea Morn said. “Therefore, all problems were resolved.”
Sao Socheat, Military Region 4’s deputy commander, said that Thai commanders explained at the meeting on Saturday that the shootings were caused by inexperienced Thai soldiers who were only meant to be on standby in the area.
“They told us that their soldiers were newcomers who do not know the area well,” Sao Socheat said.
“We do not believe their interpretation, and we told them not to create any more problems.”
Saturday’s hostilities provided a counterpoint to recent developments that have suggested that Thai-Cambodian relations, which have been particularly strained in the past few months, may soon be restored to normalcy.
Although shootings along the border have been a continual problem, relations between officials in the capitals appear to be improving.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has heaped criticism on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on several occasions since the countries recalled their respective ambassadors last November. At a regional summit in Thailand earlier this month, however, the premier greeted Abhisit warmly and told Thai officials that he would not allow Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to visit Cambodia during ongoing antigovernment protests in Thailand.
Sun Chanthol, vice chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said on the sidelines of the 16th ASEAN summit in Hanoi earlier this month that Cambodian officials had enjoyed cordial and productive interactions in meetings with the Thai delegation despite past disagreements.
“Everyone works well together – there’s no issue there,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE AND VONG SOKHENG