Two Killed in Border Battle

A deadly skirmish on the Thai-Cambodia border fans the flames of nationalism in both countries.
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Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (L) and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong (R) in Siem Reap, Feb. 4, 2011.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (L) and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong (R) in Siem Reap, Feb. 4, 2011.

The deadliest border clash in over a year erupted on Friday between armed forces from Thailand and Cambodia amidst talks between the two countries to settle recent tensions.

Two Cambodian soldiers were killed and two wounded, while five Thai soldiers were taken as prisoners during the battle, which took place in a 4.6 square kilometer (1.8 square mile) hotly disputed border area around the ancient Preah Vihear temple between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

It was unclear who sparked the battle. The Cambodian military said it fired shots over the heads of Thai soldiers who they said had made an incursion into Cambodian territory, while the Thai military said it returned fire after Cambodian artillery shells exploded in Thailand’s Huay Thip village.

Koy Koung, spokesman for the Cambodian foreign affairs ministry, said Phnom Penh will file a complaint against the “Thai invasion” to the UN’s Security Council on Saturday.

“There were about 300 Thai soldiers who took up positions near Preah Vihear’s ancient stairs and they fired artillery shells 18 or 20 kilometers (11 or 12 miles) into Cambodian territory,” he said.

“We aren’t ready to release the content of the complaint yet,” Koy Koung said, adding that despite the skirmish, diplomatic relations between the two countries remain fine.

Cambodian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Chhum Socheat said the extent of the damage was unknown because darkness had descended in the area.

“The cause of the skirmish was Thai soldiers [were] attempting to invade Cambodia. Cambodia didn’t provoke the fighting,” he said, adding that he was unable to provide details of the casualities.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers, said the captured Thai soldiers had surrendered and were being detained in Cambodia. He added that a large Thai military camp had been destroyed by the Cambodian military.

Call for restraint

Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha called the incident a “misunderstanding.”

"It seems to have been a result of a misunderstanding. Right now there are ongoing talks between army chiefs on both sides," he said.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya urged border forces to exercise caution, while boarding a plane to Bangkok from Siem Reap in Cambodia where he earlier met with his counterpart Hor Nam Hong to discuss bilateral relations.

“The border situation … is very sensitive on both sides, so both sides must use the utmost restraint,” he said.

“I called back to Bangkok and talked to my minister of defense in order to diffuse the situation and bring the ceasefire under control.”

“UNESCO needs to take [note] of all of this and there should not be any intervention or activities by third parties that would be detrimental to the further relationship of the two countries.”

Ongoing feud

The clash occurred in a disputed area surrounding Preah Vihear Temple. RFA
The clash occurred in a disputed area surrounding Preah Vihear Temple. RFA RFA
The two nations have clashed several times over the land surrounding Preah Vihear temple since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded the complex UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

But fighting had not led to a fatality since January 2010, when a Thai soldier was shot dead following a skirmish in the area.

The International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia in 1962, but never issued a clarification on the ownership of nearby land.

The issue has been a source of contention for nationalists on both sides of the border, and Thailand’s “yellow shirt” political party said it will hold a demonstration at the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok on Saturday.

The clash is likely to lend leverage to the yellow shirt movement, which has been calling on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take a tougher stance on relations with Cambodia.

It also follows the verdict three days ago from a Cambodian court which sentenced two Thai nationalists to jail terms of six and eight years for trespassing and spying in the border region.

Reported by RFA’s Lao and Khmer services. Translated from Khmer by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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