Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Calm returns to border battle zone

Calm returns to border battle zone

Calm returns to border battle zone


International community expresses alarm over violent clash on the

Thai-Cambodian border, but troops on the ground manage a tenuous peace

less than a day after trying to kill one another

Preah Vihear


Cambodian soldier Mom Kiri (right) greets a Thai trooper who came back

to the scene of fighting Thursday to collect his belongings.

Refugees and robbers

cause chaos on flight from war

Wednesday's violent clashes near Preah

Vihear between Cambodian and Thai troops have caused chaos along the

border, villagers say, with people fleeing their homes and the roadways

becoming hunting grounds in some places for highwaymen preying on

refugees. “Robbers are taking motorbikes from people – last night four

or five bikes were taken,” said the owner of the China Guesthouse, who

gave her name as Kosal, in the border town O’Smach. “O’Smach is very

quiet now, even the market is closed,” she said Thursday. “I am very

scared to live here, but I have to remain because I am also afraid that

someone will break into my house and steal my belongings,” she added.

The roads between Preah Vihear and Siem Reap are full of people fleeing

– often packed with what belongings they could carry on the back of

motorbikes and in cars. According to Kosal, taxi drivers are taking

advantage of the panic by more than tripling normal fares to as much as

100,000 riels (US$25) per seat. In Sa Em town, near Preah Vihear, one

villager watched the flow of people saying, “They are so afraid of



IF not for the splintered tree trunks and

bullet holes torn through plastic tent covers, it would have been hard

to tell that this patch of scrub forest near Preah Vihear was just a

day earlier the scene of the worst violence in the three-month standoff

between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over disputed border territory.

Thai troops, who less than 24 hours earlier were engaged in a deadly

exchange of rocket and automatic rifle fire with Cambodian adversaries,

slowly trickled back into the camps the two sides have been sharing for

weeks to ask, somewhat sheepishly, for their weapons and belongings


"We didn't touch anything," Cambodian soldiers Mom Kiri told the Post

after chatting with a Thai trooper who wanted to retrieve a bedroll.

"We left it here for them."

The Thai, smiling, said, "They are our Cambodian brothers."

But while an uneasy quiet returns to the front line, which has seen the

largest recent buildup of military personnel and equipment, concern is

rising internationally.

Numerous world powers have turned their attention to this tiny border

spat, calling for the border dispute to be resolved by talks rather

than bullets.

Rising alarm

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern about the exchange of gunfire, urging both sides to show restraint.

"The secretary general is deeply concerned about the exchange of

gunfire [Wednesday] along the Cambodia-Thailand border and the reported

casualties," said a statement issued by his spokeswoman Michele Montas.

"He calls on both parties to exercise utmost restraint and urges

them to expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be

resolved peacefully," it added.

The United States and Britain also weighed in.

"We've noticed an uptick over the past couple of days in the tensions

on both sides of the borders," US State Department spokesman Sean

McCormack told reporters.

"We would urge restraint on both sides, to refrain from any use of

violence or any provocation to the other side, and to resolve what are

clear differences over a border area," McCormack said.

China - Cambodia's largest foreign donor - said it was alarmed over the

fighting, which left at least two Cambodian soldiers dead and several

other troops from both sides wounded.

"We express concern about the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

"We hope the two countries will maintain restraint and resolve the conflict properly through dialogue."


Fleeing back home

More than 400 Thais have fled Cambodia after Wednesday's clash, a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

No official evacuation plan is in place, but the ministry has urged all

Thais not on urgent business to come home. Spokesman Tharit Charungvat

said that 432 of about 1,500 Thais in Phnom Penh have so far heeded the


"We have convinced them to return," Tharit said.
Military transport planes remain on standby in case an evacuation plan needs to be implemented, he added.

Thai nationals were last evacuated from Cambodia in 2003 during the anti-Thai riots, when the Thai embassy was burned.

Land mine denial

Amid ongoing finger-pointing over who sparked off the most recent

border violence, Cambodia denied that it has recently laid land mines

along the disputed border.

"Cambodia strongly reaffirms the fact that land mines in this border

area are the remnants of almost three decades of war," the Foreign

Ministry said in a statement released Thursday.

Two Thai soldiers were wounded after stepping on mines near the

Cambodian front lines earlier this month, sparking accusations that

Cambodia had mined the border.