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RCAF failed to report clashes at border: PM

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RIME Minister Hun Sen has lashed out at military commanders stationed along the Thai border, accusing them of withholding information pertaining to a recent border clash that they said was caused by drunk Thai soldiers.

Speaking at the inauguration of Preah Vihear provincial hall Wednesday, the premier said Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander in Chief General Pol Saroeun, his deputy General Chea Dara and other commanders had given him conflicting reports after two exchanges of gunfire between Cambodian and Thai soldiers on April 17. He did not specify how the reports had conflicted, or what information might have been withheld.

“You have to be careful, reporting to the leader. The reports have to be cleared. I would like to tell all military commanders that they have to report in detail – even small things have to be reported to me,” Hun Sen said.

He said the poor quality of information available about the incident could have compromised military strategy at a time when Thai nationalists were reportedly planning to tamper with border markers. The premier also asked for clarifications about explanations given to him by commanders, who reported that the clashes were caused by drunk Thai troops.

“I want all commanders here to understand that they should report all events that occur, whether we are right or wrong, to the upper echelons so we can better analyse” the situation, he added, and warned that any further obfuscation on the part of the military would be punished.

But Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Army, said he had received no reports about Thai soldiers drinking at the frontlines.

“If it was the case of skirmish or exchange of fire, it must be the case that something happened before,” he said. “Soldiers who are working in that area understand ... the sensitivity of the action or whatever happens.”

Upping the heat on loggers

In his speech, Hun Sen also repeated earlier orders that military commanders should refrain from illegal logging.

“Military officials have to protect the forestry and land where you are based,” he said.

Colonel Meas Yoeun, deputy military commander for Preah Vihear province, denied that soldiers in the area were committing forestry crimes, and said that no soldiers in the province had been arrested in the recent crackdown on illegal loggers.

Ty Soveinthal, a prosecutor at Siem Reap provincial court, where authorities say they have confiscated thousands of cubic metres of valuable timber in recent months, said he had not uncovered any military involvement with the operations.

One environmental activist praised the prime minister for keeping the heat on the country’s illegal loggers.

“I have learned from my colleagues in the field that this month and last month, because of the crackdown, it is very quiet everywhere,” said Bunra Seng, country director of Conservation International. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE AND SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

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