SI SA KET : Loud bangs late in the night have caused panic among villagers who have just returned to their homes near the Cambodian border after being evacuated last week.
Thawatchai: No new fighting reported
The villagers, who were moved to emergency shelters after clashes erupted along the border on Feb 4, were settling for the night after returning home on Saturday when three loud bangs rang out about 10.10pm.
Some fled their homes in panic for fear of further clashes between troops from the two neighbouring countries.
The noises were loud enough to trigger a state of chaos in Ban Phum Srol, Ban Don-aow and Ban Nong Mek, the three communities directly affected by the border clashes.
The sounds came from somewhere east of the villages, in the direction of where Thai and Cambodian troops are stationed.
The 2nd Army allowed about 10,000 people taking refuge at the Kantharalak district office to return home on Saturday after there were no further flare-ups after the last round of clashes on Feb 7.
Many residents felt secure enough and decided to return home in the knowledge they were being protected by the Suranari Task Force.
But 196 people rushed back to the shelter after hearing the loud reports, only to find it had been closed after the last villager left.
Second Army commander Thawatchai Samutsakhon said the explosions were not the result of any new fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops. They came from deeper inside Cambodia. "We are not covering it up because if Cambodia had fired at us, we would have responded and the loud noises would have been much greater," Lt Gen Thawatchai said yesterday.
Col Chinnakaj Ratanajitti, a field spokesman for the 2nd Army, said: "They sounded more like gunshots but as the villagers remained frightened by the consequences of the past troop clashes and it was night-time, the shots might have sounded louder than they actually were."
The 2nd Army has added more troops and stepped up patrols in affected villages to reassure residents of their safety, he said.
The headmaster of Ban Phum Srol School, which was badly damaged by rockets fired from a Cambodian BM-21 multiple launcher, has turned the debris into a reminder of the Feb 4 incident.
"We want our children to have something to remind them that their school was once badly damaged by the Cambodian troops," said Pramul Sawaengphol, the school director.
"War or fighting is terrible and no one wants it to happen again."
A sports competition being held at the school was suddenly interrupted on Feb4 by the sound of gunfire, sending the participants from 13 villages scattering for their safety.
A four-storey school building was hit by at least three rockets, resulting in severe damage to the roof and the two uppermost floors. Two more rockets landed in the schoolyard and on the road leading to the school.
The damaged building has yet to be repaired but the school will resume classes today .
"I believe Valentine's Day will bring some good news from the negotiations between Thailand and Cambodia [in New York before the United Nations Security Council]," Mr Pramul said.