International community expresses alarm over violent clash on the
Thai-Cambodian border, but troops on the ground manage a tenuous peace
less than a day after trying to kill one another
Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Cambodian soldier Mom Kiri (right) greets a Thai trooper who came back
to the scene of fighting Thursday to collect his belongings.
Refugees and robbers
cause chaos on flight from war
Wednesday's violent clashes near Preah
Vihear between Cambodian and Thai troops have caused chaos along the
border, villagers say, with people fleeing their homes and the roadways
becoming hunting grounds in some places for highwaymen preying on
refugees. “Robbers are taking motorbikes from people – last night four
or five bikes were taken,” said the owner of the China Guesthouse, who
gave her name as Kosal, in the border town O’Smach. “O’Smach is very
quiet now, even the market is closed,” she said Thursday. “I am very
scared to live here, but I have to remain because I am also afraid that
someone will break into my house and steal my belongings,” she added.
The roads between Preah Vihear and Siem Reap are full of people fleeing
– often packed with what belongings they could carry on the back of
motorbikes and in cars. According to Kosal, taxi drivers are taking
advantage of the panic by more than tripling normal fares to as much as
100,000 riels (US$25) per seat. In Sa Em town, near Preah Vihear, one
villager watched the flow of people saying, “They are so afraid of
REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND SAM RITH
IF not for the splintered tree trunks and
bullet holes torn through plastic tent covers, it would have been hard
to tell that this patch of scrub forest near Preah Vihear was just a
day earlier the scene of the worst violence in the three-month standoff
between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over disputed border territory.
Thai troops, who less than 24 hours earlier were engaged in a deadly
exchange of rocket and automatic rifle fire with Cambodian adversaries,
slowly trickled back into the camps the two sides have been sharing for
weeks to ask, somewhat sheepishly, for their weapons and belongings
"We didn't touch anything," Cambodian soldiers Mom Kiri told the Post
after chatting with a Thai trooper who wanted to retrieve a bedroll.
"We left it here for them."
The Thai, smiling, said, "They are our Cambodian brothers."
But while an uneasy quiet returns to the front line, which has seen the
largest recent buildup of military personnel and equipment, concern is
Numerous world powers have turned their attention to this tiny border
spat, calling for the border dispute to be resolved by talks rather
UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern about the exchange of gunfire, urging both sides to show restraint.
"The secretary general is deeply concerned about the exchange of
gunfire [Wednesday] along the Cambodia-Thailand border and the reported
casualties," said a statement issued by his spokeswoman Michele Montas.
"He calls on both parties to exercise utmost restraint and urges
them to expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be
resolved peacefully," it added.
The United States and Britain also weighed in.
"We've noticed an uptick over the past couple of days in the tensions
on both sides of the borders," US State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack told reporters.
"We would urge restraint on both sides, to refrain from any use of
violence or any provocation to the other side, and to resolve what are
clear differences over a border area," McCormack said.
China - Cambodia's largest foreign donor - said it was alarmed over the
fighting, which left at least two Cambodian soldiers dead and several
other troops from both sides wounded.
"We express concern about the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
"We hope the two countries will maintain restraint and resolve the conflict properly through dialogue."
WE HOPE THE TWO COUNTRIES WILL MAINTAIN RESTRAINT AND RESOLVE THE CONFLICT.
Fleeing back home
More than 400 Thais have fled Cambodia after Wednesday's clash, a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.
No official evacuation plan is in place, but the ministry has urged all
Thais not on urgent business to come home. Spokesman Tharit Charungvat
said that 432 of about 1,500 Thais in Phnom Penh have so far heeded the
"We have convinced them to return," Tharit said.
Military transport planes remain on standby in case an evacuation plan needs to be implemented, he added.
Thai nationals were last evacuated from Cambodia in 2003 during the anti-Thai riots, when the Thai embassy was burned.
Land mine denial
Amid ongoing finger-pointing over who sparked off the most recent
border violence, Cambodia denied that it has recently laid land mines
along the disputed border.
"Cambodia strongly reaffirms the fact that land mines in this border
area are the remnants of almost three decades of war," the Foreign
Ministry said in a statement released Thursday.
Two Thai soldiers were wounded after stepping on mines near the
Cambodian front lines earlier this month, sparking accusations that
Cambodia had mined the border.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP