THAI and Cambodian troops stationed along the contentious border near Preah Vihear temple exchanged fire briefly on Sunday, according to Cambodian troops, who say the incident was provoked by drunken Thai soldiers.
“The Thai soldiers started shooting first, and Cambodian soldiers responded,” said one Cambodian officer stationed at Phnom Trop, an area adjacent to the temple and claimed by both sides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment. He estimated that the exchange lasted for only a few minutes. Commanders from both sides, he added, “wondered who was shooting and why they were shooting”.
Yim Phim, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Brigade 8, said Thai officials had apologised for the behaviour of their “drunk” soldiers and had pledged to discipline those involved.
“Now we have no problems because the Thai military commanders apologised for the shooting and promised to send those soldiers away from the front lines,” Yim Phim said.
Royal Thai Army deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak said Tuesday that he had not heard anything about the incident.
“Of course we’ll look into this matter, but right now I’m not aware of the situation,” he said.
Phnom Trop has been the site of tensions between Thai and Cambodian troops in the past. In January, commanders from the two sides met after their troops confronted one another in a disputed zone. In the aftermath of those talks, troops were pulled back to their respective sides.
Earlier in January, a series of brief skirmishes broke out near Preah Vihear temple, though no one was hurt and the two governments later said the incidents stemmed from a “misunderstanding”.
Despite tension along the border, RCAF troops in the area are planning celebrations with their families for the upcoming Khmer New Year holiday, complete with food and dancing.
“They can enjoy and be happy, but we are still on alert all the time,” Yim Phim said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE