DEADLY clashes on the Thai-Cambodian border spread yesterday to a new front near Preah Vihear temple, as fighting 150 kilometres away in Oddar Meanchey province raged for a fifth straight day.
Pen Song, a soldier of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces based at Preah Vihear, said fighting broke out around 1:20pm yesterday at Veal Entry and Phnom Trop, areas roughly two and three kilometres, respectively, from the temple. “We exchanged rifle fire and rocket artillery,” he said.
Yim Phim, commander of RCAF Brigade 8, said the clashes near Preah Vihear had lasted roughly 30 minutes. He accused Thailand of flying aircraft over the area and provoking the clashes by firing on Cambodian soldiers. Thailand's The Bangkok Post reported that the clashes started after Cambodian troops fired on Thai F-16 fighter jets. No casualties had been reported near the temple as of yesterday evening.
Meanwhile, the death toll from clashes along the border near Oddar Meanchey climbed to 13 after one Cambodian soldier was reported dead from fighting on Monday night. Hostilities stretched into the evening yesterday, with both sides continuing the use of heavy artillery, though no new deaths had been reported when The Post went to press.
The electricity cut out yesterday evening as rain came down in Oddar Meanchey’s Samroang town, where many of the 20,000 plus Cambodians displaced in the fighting have gathered in pagodas and other public areas. “Now the situation is very terrible because we don’t have electricity, and it’s also raining,” said Uy Sam Ath, director of the disaster management department at the Cambodian Red Cross. The source of the power outage could not be confirmed, though state media in Bangkok reported yesterday that Thai Energy Minister Wannarat Channukul had said he was “ready to comply” with a government order to cut power to Cambodia.
Cambodia and Thailand have accused one another of touching off the clashes in Oddar Meanchey, which have seen thousands of civilians displaced on both sides of the border. The fighting has centred largely around the centuries-old temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, which are claimed by both sides. The latest round of conflict follows similar clashes near Preah Vihear temple in February that left 10 soldiers dead.
Reurn Heng, an RCAF soldier stationed at Ta Moan temple, said Cambodian troops had begun using long-range BM-21 rocket launchers in the face of the continuing onslaught from Thailand.
Cambodian officials say at least nine civilian homes have been destroyed by Thai artillery since last week. Yesterday, Cambodian troops continued accusations that Thailand had deployed shells filled with “poisonous gas” along the border in Oddar Meanchey. Phoeuk Amrith, deputy chief of the military hospital in RCAF Region 4, said yesterday that he had treated nine Cambodian soldiers feeling the after-effects of the gas.
“Some were unconscious before they were sent here and others could not see clearly or had pain in their arms, legs and back,” he said, adding that the troops had also complained of difficulty in breathing. Thailand has called the gas claims “groundless”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THET SAMBATH