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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM to Bangkok as clashes get bloodier

PM to Bangkok as clashes get bloodier

P REAH PRALAI-Cambodian and Thai army units stationed around Khmer Rouge

sanctuaries near this ill-defined border pass have been involved in an

escalating conflict.

The war of words-renewed charges of Thai complicity

with KR general Ta Mok's 990th division-is heating up as quickly as the shooting

war.

Earlier this month two Thai rangers in civilian clothes were shot on

Hill 547 by Cambodian forces. Hill 547 is two kilometers inside Cambodia "but

now the Thai claim (it) is Thai territory," according to army deputy chief Lt

Gen Nhek Bunchay.

Thai retaliation was swift-155mm guns shelled

Cambodian forces that had been attacking a Khmer Rouge border base nestled just

a few kilometers from a Thai military deployment.

Thai army

Commander-in-Chief Gen. Wimol Wonganich said 12 Cambodian soldiers were killed,

though the Cambodians only concede a body count of three.

Cambodian

regional military commander General Khann Savouern admitted that some Cambodian

shells had spilled over the border but maintained: "We don't want to make war

with Thailand but they should respect our territory.. we asked the Thai side to

expel the Khmer Rouge from the border area."

A Cambodian general said:

"The Khmer Rouge are in the middle, the Thai army is on one side and we are on

the other..... this is the problem."

The deteriorating relations, border

tensions and territorial disputes will be the forefront of talks at the end of

this month between co-Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Chuan

Leekpai.

The Cambodia delegation will discuss continued reports of Thai

supplies, including ammunition, being given to the KR. The Thai will press Phnom

Penh to give a full account on the investigation into the Nov 21 murder of 22

Thai loggers in Preah Vihear.

The Cambodian investigation says that the

KR 612 division was clearly responsible, but the Thai embassy claims they have

never been given a copy of the investigation.

Gen Tieb Ry, who is basd

in Battambang and in charge of a special police combat battalion, said: "In

February the Khmer Rouge general in charge of 415 division in Pailin went to

Thailand and brought back supplies including ammunition."

He said that

the KR could buy anything from Thailand.

The murder of the Thai loggers

symbolizes the deep gulf of distrust between Thailand and Cambodia.

The

Thai military has stubbornly refused to entertain the Cambodian report that

claimed "clear and overwhelming" proof of KR guilt, the bulk of the proof based

on evidence of three Thai survivors. One of the survivors, Chan Chuathong - who

has previously worked with a Thai logging company that dealt with the Khmer

Rouge murder suspects - said he was "certain that it was the Khmer

Rouge."

Thailand second army region chief Gen Surayuth Junnanon said

there was no firm information that the Khmer Rouge was responsible. Wongwanich

failed to explain why he did not trust the eyewitness testimony of three Thai

citizens in a recent interview with the Bangkok Post.

However, a Khmer

Rouge defector in Siem Reap, Col Ith Som, said it was contrary to KR interests

to kill any Thai. "They depend on Thailand too much" and that the real motive

for the killings was "rivalry between the Thai-logging companies."

The

Cambodian investigation has limited itself to identifying the KR force that

perpetrated the massacre; it did not detail the tangled web of intrigue between

the logging companies, the KR, the Thai military and the business interests of

the Cambodian armed forces.

Analysts doubt whether Hun Sen's visit to

Bangkok can resolve the distrust around the BLP logging massacre and on-going

border clashes, at least till proper documentation of the investigation is given

to the Thais.

The border fighting also appears problematic given the Thai

stance that "the offensive against the Khmer Rouge is an internal matter for

Cambodia."

A senior Bangkok intelligence official said: "By not aiding

Cambodian troops, it does not mean we are still supporting the Khmer Rouge."

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