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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai soldier loses leg, triggers gunfight after stepping on mine

Thai soldier loses leg, triggers gunfight after stepping on mine

A THAI soldier stationed near Preah Vihear temple stepped on a land mine Thursday, losing a leg and triggering an exchange of gunfire between Thai and Cambodian troops patrolling near the contested area, according to Cambodian military officials there.

"The Thai soldier at 8:20am had his right leg blown off when he stepped on a mine," said Khim Eung, an officer with Brigade 8 based around the 11th-century temple, which is perched on an escarpment  dividing the two countries.

"Thai soldiers fired several shots at Cambodian soldiers after the explosion, and Cambodian soldiers reacted with a few AK-47 shots."

The gunfire, he said, came from confusion about the source of the explosion and ended quickly.

Khim Eung said the incident occurred at Veal Antri, a tract of forest around a kilometre from the temple that was the site of the only armed flare-ups of the nearly eight-month-old border standoff.  

 Heavy fighting erupted there October 15, killing three Cambodian soldiers and wounding others, with several Thai troops sustaining injuries. Two weeks earlier, Veal Antri was the site of a brief firefight that left three troops wounded.

Khim Eung said the wounded solider was evacuated by helicopter within an hour after Thai military commanders asked permission to retrieve him.

Deputy Thai army spokesman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said the solider had been on patrol and confirmed the soldier had lost a leg.

Tense detente

Khim Eung said 50 Thai soldiers remained at Veal Antri.  Although he described the morning's tension as having mostly subsided, he said Cambodian troops in the area remained on high alert.  

 Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, said the Cambodian troops "don't dare walk" in the area where the Thai soldier was wounded.

"Mines were laid there during the fighting in the 1980s and 1990s," he said, referring to clashes between government troops and resistance fighters.

The incident came two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Thailand that it would face fighting if its troops crossed their disputed frontier, and a week after an alleged trespass by about 100 soldiers.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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