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Border still in crosshairs

Preah Vihear province
Cambodian
and Thai troops clashed for a fourth straight day close to Preah Vihear
temple today, prompting the flight of thousands of villagers from both
sides of the border.
A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier stationed at Preah Vihear temple takes aim across the border into Thailand. Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Nuth Teng, a Cambodian military official,
said that fighting broke out at 4:25am and 8:12am at Ta Sem, about
seven kilometres from Preah Vihear temple.
“They came and started shooting at us first,” said Nuth Teng.
Several
hours of shelling and machine gun fire subsided at about 11am, creating
an uneasy peace in the 4.6-square-kilometre contested area around the
11th-century temple.
Thai officials said today that two people had been killed and 34 others injured over the four days of clashes.
Speaking to reporters today, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said five Cambodians had been killed in the fighting and 45 injured.
The
past four days have seen the deadliest clashes since tensions broke out
on the border in July 2008, when the temple was listed as a UNESCO
World Heritage site.
About seven people had been killed in sporadic skirmishes before this round of fighting.
Both
sides blame the other for sparking the clashes, which have unleashed
nationalist passions in Bangkok, energising Yellow Shirt protesters
demanding Thailand’s government step down.
Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the Thai side had fired on Cambodian positions only in retaliation.
“Cambodian troops started firing into Thai territory and we fired back,’’ the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.
“We retaliated and gave them what they deserved.”
Tensions
also threaten to spread to other parts of the two countries’ shared
border, where Cambodians claim Thai troops have been deployed since
Sunday night.
“Thai soldiers have been sent at night time and
deployed along the border with Cambodia,” said Banteay Meanchey
provincial military commander Plon Dara. He said he met his Thai
counterparts on Saturday and would continue to do so frequently – in a
bid to head off any armed conflict, but said his troops were on alert
“24 hours”.
“We are ready to defend our nation,” he said.
In
the wake of fighting that re-erupted on Sunday night, more than 3,000
Cambodian families were evacuated from villages close to the temple to
Kulen district’s Thmey commune, about 90 kilometres from Preah Vihear.
“Firstly,
we will find them shelter and basic food,” said Kulen district governor
Chum Poy, adding that local NGOs and the National Committee for
Disaster Management were set to distribute food packages today.
Sek
Pheak, 43, a resident of Thamacheat village, was one of about 1,000
villagers bunkering down in Tuol Andet pagoda in Kulen, where streams
of people arrived today on trucks and improvised tractors bearing bags,
sleeping mats and cooking pots.
“I could not stay in the village any longer, we started panicking when many bombs fell down nearby,” she said.
“I don’t know when can we go back, but I will stay here until the war is over.”
Forty-two-year-old
Chin Choeun, another villager from the area, said that many fled their
homes empty-handed as the shells began to fall.
“I have nothing here,” Chin Choeun said. “We don’t have even food or shelter.”
Sa
Em, a town about 27 kilometres east of Preah Vihear, remained quiet
today, after most of its inhabitants fled during the large-scale
exchange of gunfire between Cambodian and Thai troops on Sunday night
and early today.
Evacuations also took place across the two countries’ shared border, amid heightened tensions.
Siem
Reap provincial deputy governor Bun Tharit said 158 families left from
Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district and took shelter in the
Sre Noy pagoda following Sunday night’s fierce clashes.
“They are leaving their houses as they want to escape from the Thai military’s artillery shelling,” Bun Tharit said.
He said he had registered them and he would discuss with the governor to look for assistance to help them.
In
Phum Saron, an evacuated village in Thailand’s Sisaket province,
Cambodian artillery reportedly struck several homes and a school during
Sunday’s fighting. Thai soldiers guarded buildings today and said it
was unclear if more fighting loomed.
Thai state media reported that about 15,000 villagers fled their homes and are now staying at five temporary shelters.
Reports
also claim the government has closed Preah Vihear National Park in
northeastern Sisaket province and evacuated the park’s officials out of
the area.
Further along the Cambodian side of the border, life continued on relatively uninterrupted today.
Suon
Khoeun, the governor of Phnom Proek district in Battambang province,
said Thais and Cambodians were crossing the border back and forth as
normal and soldiers were standing at their place along border.
“We have no problem with each other here,” Suon Khoeun said.
Koh
Kong provincial military commander Yun Mean said the situation along
the border in his province remained normal, though troops were on alert.
Two
Cambodian border police and one soldier injured in the recent border
clashes were being treated at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital.
The
two border police, 35-year-old Kom Samnang and 25-year-old Ghing Nimol,
were admitted to hospital today after being shot multiple times while
driving a police car to deliver supplies to the Cambodian army, the
mother of one of the men said.
All three were seriously injured, but their condition appeared to be stable.
Both men were in the same car and both had lost one of their hands as a result of the shooting.
Wet Poon, the mother of border policeman Kom Samnang, said she was “very sad” that her son had lost one of his hands.
She added that while the government placed the men in hospital, she had to provide food and drink for her son.
The
Cambodian soldier, 49-year-old So Hot, was admitted to the hospital on
February 4 after the first bout of clashes, with injuries to his upper
chest after being shot.
Cambodian officials allege Thai millitary used cluster munitions
Cambodian officials raised suggestions today that the Thai military had deployed cluster bombs during the recent clashes.
Heng
Rattana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said
today that CMAC staff at the border had confirmed the use of M-42
cluster munitions by the Thai army.
He said they were delivered via 155mm rockets.
“We saw it already. We verified that,” he said.
“We are very disappointed and very sorry about that, because they will remain in our country and kill our people.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he had also received military reports that the Thais had used cluster bombs.
“[Foreign Minister] Hor Namhong also said he got information that the Thai side is using the cluster bomb,” Koy Kuong said.
“Now we are following the information,” he said. The use of cluster munitions could not be independently verified.
Colonel
Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Army,
denied the charge, saying Thai troops had only deployed conventional
artillery.
“This is just a normal one, not something against international law or standards. We completely deny the reports,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO, THOMAS MILLER, VONG SOKHENG AND REUTERS

Phnom Penh Post

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Categories: Local News
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