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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cold border standoff turns hot

Cold border standoff turns hot

Cambodian and Thai troops suffered injuries during an exchange of gunfire Friday afternoon near Preah Vihear temple, in the first real military fighting of the prolonged border standoff, say Cambodian officials.

"One Cambodian was shot in the arm, and we believe one or two Thai soldiers were injured," according to Yim Phim, the commander of brigade 43, which is stationed in the area.

He said the incident started at around 3:00pm when about a dozen Thai soldiers approached a Cambodian army encampment at Phnom Troap, just a couple kilometres from the World-Heritage listed temple, and demanded troops there leave.

"They showed them a Thai-made map and told the Cambodians to get off the land. An argument went on for a while," said Yim Phim. "The Thais then withdrew about ten meters and started firing."

"Thai soldiers first fired an M-79 (grenade launcher), and Cambodians shot back with a B-40 (grenade launcher). Then both sides fired with machine guns," he said.

He said the Thai soldiers withdrew across the border after dark, around 5:30, while the Cambodian soldiers remained in their original position.

"In that area, soldiers from both countries used to stay close to each other, but the situation has changed and now everyone is on high alert."

Srey Doek, the highest-ranking military official stationed inside the Preah Vihear temple complex, told the Post Saturday morning that his Thai counterpart had requested to meet him Saturday afternoon in the local pagoda, but he still did not have authority from his superiors to attend.

Cambodian government and army leaders have thrown a wet blanket on the first reported violent military clash since the standoff began more than 11 weeks ago, characterizing it as a localized incident that would not threaten to spread to other points along the border.

Chea Morn, head commander of Military Region 4, which includes Preah Vihear province, corroborated that "a clash", as described by the brigade commander, had taken place, but said it was "just a small problem... and would be resolved."

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs would contact its Thai counterpart to discuss to incident, but called it "a problem between the soldiers stationed in that area... and not a problem between the governments."

"The government's position is still that diplomatic negotiations must be used to solve this dispute."

Just earlier this week, in the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit in New York, top foreign affairs officials from both sides reiterated the commitment of their governments to resolving the dispute peacefully.

Phay Siphan said talks between the Cambodian and Thai prime ministers on October 13 in Phnom Penh would proceed as planned. 



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