A THAI man killed in a gun battle with Cambodian soldiers on Friday night in Pursat province was part of an invading party of Thai troops, Cambodian officials report, though Bangkok says the man was a civilian.
Pursat provincial police Chief Sarun Chanthy said Sunday that shooting broke out around 11pm on Friday night in Pursat’s Thmorda commune, Veal Veng district, after 20 Thai troops set up their camp about 100 metres inside Cambodian territory.
“Our troops were patrolling the border on Friday morning when they found that 20 Thai soldiers had entered Cambodian territory,” Sarun Chanthy said, adding that despite a request from Cambodian troops asking them to return to Thailand, the Thai soldiers remained at the site when the patrol returned that evening.
“When we returned that night, they had set up their camp, and when we asked them to leave again, suddenly they opened fire on us,” Sarun Chanthy said.
“The Thai soldiers withdrew from the area after a brief exchange of gunfire, and when we returned to the site the next morning, we found the dead body of one Thai.”
They opened fire with m16S – those are not weapons for hunters.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed that one Thai national had been killed, though he said the man was only a “local hunter”.
“We have received a preliminary report on the incident that just stated that a Thai citizen who is living in that area has been killed,” Panitan said, adding that the deceased man had crossed into Cambodian territory in a group of six people.
“Six of them have been hunting and working in the forest, and five are safe, and one has been killed,” Panitan said.
Sarun Chanthy acknowledged that the Thais had not been wearing military uniforms, but said they were disguised in order to spy on Cambodia.
“They opened fire with M16s – those are not weapons for hunters. Therefore, we made the conclusion that Thai soldiers used civilian dress and entered Cambodian territory to spy on our soldiers,” he said, adding that Cambodian troops have “no intention to shoot civilians”.
Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Defence, also said that the dead man was from the Thai military.
“Our military report was clear that the Thais who entered Cambodian territory were the black-clad Thai soldiers,” Chhum Socheat said.
Panitan said the men in the Thai group were armed with only “hunting machines, including some traps and some other tools”.
Shootings at the border
On January 24, gunfire broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops along their undemarcated border near Preah Vihear temple in a series of brief exchanges in which no one was hurt.
Since September, at least eight Cambodians have been killed by Thai soldiers while logging illegally in Thai territory, Cambodian officials say.
The government has forcefully denounced these shootings, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong calling them “barbarous, ferocious and inhuman actions”.
Chhum Socheat declined to comment on whether the shooting of a Thai civilian by Cambodian troops would be cause for similar criticisms.
“Thai soldiers have frequently shot Cambodian civilians, so I don’t want to make a comment about that,” he said.
Panitan said Bangkok was not concerned about an uptick in violence along the border, and that the recent events were “not unusual”.
“The incidents from time to time do take place along several hundred kilometres” at the border, he said, adding that violent incidents in border areas “have been less compared to the past few years”.
Sarun Chanthy said Cambodian and Thai soldiers had held talks near the site of the hostilities over the weekend, and that they had agreed to avoid confrontation in the future, with the Cambodians pledging to repatriate the dead Thai man’s remains.