Thai Embassy officials in Phnom Penh have indicated that their troops are occupying
land that Cambodia mistakenly believes is its own and are not conducting a land grab
as alleged by Khmer military officials.
In addition to the 18 reported incursions by Thailand on to land that had previously
been occupied by Cambodians there has also been a reported attempt to move the sea
border southward two degrees in Thailand's favor.
The shift in effect cuts 60 nautical miles off the furthest extent of Cambodia's
maritime territory and possibly includes rich petro-chemical resources.
The Thais said the controversy has arisen because of "misunderstandings"
based on faulty maps and "false information" fed by RCAF officials seeking
to disrupt Thai-Cambodian relations.
However there has been no mention from the Thai's as to why they have not raised
the issue till now and why it is being done militarily instead of via diplomatic
The Thai diplomats insist they are simply occupying their own land.
"According to my understanding, [Thailand] doesn't have a policy of encroaching
on other countries," Thai Military Attaché Colonel Weerasak Lomwong told
the Post in an April 10 interview. "I think the Thai government doesn't want
more land than we have now...we don't have the money to develop other [land] and
we don't want to grab or seize the land of a friendly, good neighbor country."
A Cambodian political analyst scoffed at Thai denials when spoken to by the Post.
According to the analyst, the Thais have a strategic interest in creating a "buffer
zone" between Cambodia and Thailand to contain potential future military confrontations
between the two countries.
"The Thais are quick to develop the territory they grab, building good roads,
villages with wells, schools and medical clinics," he said. "By the time
word filters back to Phnom Penh that Cambodia has once again shrunk, the Thais have
presented the RGC a fait accompli."
Cambodian options in dealing with Thai incursions, the analyst added, are severely
"When the RGC has complained [in the past over border incursions] the Thais
close down the border, preventing remote Cambodian villages from buying food and
supplies," he said. "If the RGC complains too loudly, then the Thais will
demand compensation for the villagers the RGC would expect to be moved - an expense
the RGC can't afford."
Meanwhile it is understood that Hun Sen was briefed about the situation but is reluctant
to make a public issue of the Thai actions principally because he knows there is
little they can do about it.
The issue came to light on March 31 when RCAF General Mean Sarin, Deputy Commander
of Border Control, told the Post that Thai military units had challenged RCAF patrols
in the Phnom Preuk region of Battambang province, and were laying land mines to solidify
their claim on the area.
Sarin's claims were subsequently confirmed by western diplomatic sources in Phnom
Penh, who added that the Thai military had built a road six kilometers into Cambodian
territory linking Phnom Preuk with Thailand's Chanthaburi province.
Lomwong was unwilling to issue a specific denial regarding Thai activity in Phnom
"Phnom Preuk is a big area," Lomwong said of the reported incursion. Regarding
the reported presence of Thai troops in the area, Lomwong added "In this case,
I have no idea."
Lomwong was more specific in his denial of reports that Thai forces were fortifying
the Phnom Preuk area.
"[The Thai military] doesn't act like that, in my opinion," he said.
Instead, Lomwong emphasized the state of friendly relations between Thailand and
Cambodia and their armed forces in particular.
"Thais and Cambodians are the same [kind of people] in my opinion...we both
have a long history and the same culture...we really are relatives [or] brothers,"
he explained. "Thais look at Cambodians as good friends...especially middle
and upper ranking military officers."
Lomwong blamed General Mean Sarin and others in Cambodia for seeking to intentionally
exacerbate tensions between Thailand and Cambodia.
"The Cambodian general who's responsible for that [border] area never said [allegations
about Thai incursions], but [Sarin] did ... in my opinion that person doesn't know
the real situation and wants to create misunderstandings between the people of Cambodia
and Thailand," he said. "...some groups want to give false information
... to make people think that Thais want to occupy [Cambodia]."
Refusing to specify the groups to which he referred, Lomwang said that they stood
to benefit "politically, economically and trade-wise" by disrupting Thai-Cambodian
Sarin rejected Lomwang's allegations that Sarin had intentionally misled the press
regarding Thai border incursions.
"I'm not a trouble maker, I just read the reports provided to me by Military
Region [Five] that stated that Thai military forces did not permit RCAF to approach
that area, " he told the Post on April 11. "These accusations [by Lomwang]
are wrong [because] I've never had any problem with Thais...if you see [Lomwang]
again, please ask him to phrase his words more carefully in future."
Reached by phone by the Post Deputy Commander of Military Region Five Ek Som Oun
confirmed the Phnom Preuk incursion, but added that "that area has been under
dispute since 1993."
"The Thai military are definitely [in the Phnom Preuk area] and if you look
at the map, this land belongs to Cambodia" he said. "This is a matter we
leave to both governments to solve."
The First Secretary of the Thai Embassy, Nathapol Khantahiran, said that the recent
history made the possibility of border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand unavoidable.
According to Nathapol, the 73 border pillars erected over the 800 kilometers of the
Thai-Cambodian border have been progressively moved or destroyed during the past
three decades of Cambodia's civil conflict.
"As a result, the map [of the border area] that the Cambodian side holds is
different from [the map held by] the Thai side."
Nathapol says the resolution of the border issue lies with the Joint Border Commission
(JBC) which will hold its second meeting in Phnom Penh in May to discuss the border
Nathapol cautions that the border issue will not be solved overnight. "Similar
border demarcation negotiations with Malaysia have been going on for twenty years,
and with Laos for five years," he added.
Attempts by the Post to contact the JBC's Cambodian Chairman Va Kimhong were unsuccessful.