April 4, 2009
By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has blamed a "misunderstanding" as the cause of a Thai-Cambodian border clash yesterday near the Preah Vihear Hindu temple in which one Thai and two Cambodian soldiers died.
Several other people, including officials, were injured as both sides exchanged gunfire on two occasions, in the morning and afternoon.
The first round at 7am lasted only five minutes and caused no casualties. But the second clash at around 2pm at Phu Ma Khua hill, west of the Hindu temple, killed one Thai soldier and injured seven officials.
Private Wuthikrai Weruwanarak died in the battle, the Thai military said.
Two Cambodian soldiers whose names were unknown were also killed, according to Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
The gunbattle and mortar explosions from the hill were heard for 25 minutes in the afternoon, said a local villager some 5 kilometres from the clash site.
Local residents did not panic and continued to work in their farms as usual since there was no instruction to evacuate, said the villager via a phone interview from Si Sa Ket province.
The afternoon clash erupted just seven hours after the morning's brief gun exchange and a phone call by Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to discuss the problem.
The skirmishes followed a warning by Hun Sen last Tuesday that Thai soldiers should refrain from entering Cambodian territory. He said his soldiers had been instructed to fire on any intruders.
Prime Minister Abhisit, who returned from the London Group-20 Summit yesterday, said there may have been misunderstanding between troops in the area.
"It could happen - since both sides claim the same area as their respective territory. We try to use the existing mechanism of negotiation to prevent the conflict from escalating," Abhisit said.
Abhisit, who planned to visit Phnom Penh on April 18, said, if necessary, he might make a phone call to Prime Minister Hun Sen to discuss the situation.
"At this stage, I'll let the concerned officials of both sides work it out," he said.
The clash yesterday took place in the same area where, last October, fighting killed four soldiers on both sides.
Cambodia has claimed Thai troops had invaded its territory and would write a letter of protest to Bangkok.
The Thai Foreign Ministry said it had also prepared an official protest, since Cambodian troops apparently opened fire first on a Thai patrol.
Both sides should exercise utmost restraint since the Thai-Cambodia Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) is working out a settlement to the border dispute and demarcation of the boundary, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat. The JBC is scheduled to meet in Phnom Penh on April 6-7.