Troops told not to relax as fighting could erupt at any time
Thai troops at Ban Plan Non Chea, close to where the recent clashes with Cambodian forces occurred, are digging in for battle after being told by the Suranaree Task Force that fighting may erupt again at any time.
The troops are stationed less than 2km from Ban Plan Non Chea, where a unit of the Cambodian army has been deployed.
Despite efforts to try to resolve the border dispute diplomatically, the two armies remain on high alert with the Thai 2nd Army bringing in reinforcements of ground troops and tanks since Feb 6.
The unit at Ban Plan Non Chea battled Cambodian forces at Pha Mor I Dang when the border clashes broke out last week. A part of the Rot Et-based 16th Infantry Regiment, it was deployed at Pha Mor I Dang and Phu Ma Khua for a month prior to the border fighting.
"AK-70 ammunition rained down on us last Friday. About 40 bullets were used in the first exchange of gunfire," said 50-year-old Sgt Maj Sampan Khadnahong.
Sgt Maj Sampan and his 30-man team were assigned to accompany a team of army engineers building an access road at Pha Mor I Dang when Cambodian troops opened fire.
Opposite the construction area, Cambodia is building an access road to Preah Vihear temple.
According to Sgt Maj Sampan, the sound of their engines could be heard from the Thai side. Thailand has protested the road's construction.
"They fired from the temple. They initiated the attack. We ducked for cover and then came rockets and artillery shells," he said.
Sgt Maj Sampan said the gunfire killed Sgt Wutcharin Chartkhamdee and damaged two transport vehicles.
"It was awful. The fighting wouldn't stop. No one knew if they would survive the attack. But right now we look back and can have some good laughs," he said.
The worst gunfight was on Sunday when both sides traded artillery shells and rockets for three hours.
Being in the front line, troops usually have good luck charms for protection.
The Ban Plan Non Chea unit members wear an amulet from famous monk Luang Pu Jiam of Ubon Ratchathani who is widely respected among soldiers across the northeastern region.
And then there is the question of food which can also make or break the morale of troops. And here at the unit's base, lunch time is the highlight of the day.
According to Sgt Maj Boonjai Paso, when lunchtime approaches, he has to put aside his gun and do battle with a mortar and pestle.
The 49-year-old soldier makes scores of somtam dishes each day for those at the base and for distribution to other bases nearby.
"We all come from northeastern provinces. The dish is a must," he said.