Despite the joking and camaraderie, Cambodian military officials say latest fighting is another sign that Thailand is not sincere about peacefully resolving the ongoing border dispute.
Cambodian Commander Srey Doek (right) jokes with Thai Major General Kanop Netrak Thavesanak (left) during talks in a pagoda near Preah Vihear temple on Sunday.
CLASHES last week between Thai and Cambodian soldiers over the disputed border have only forged a deeper sense of mistrust, army officers at Preah Vihear said Sunday as an uneasy calm returned to the scene of the most vicious fire fights to date since the standoff began nearly nine months ago.
Despite crisis talks involving Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as meetings on the border, RCAF personnel told the Post that the behaviour of the Thai military following earlier promises to stop incursions in what Cambodia claims is its own territory left them with little hope for an easy resolution.
"We have shown them the boundaries, but the Thai soldiers never listen," said army Colonel Khon Savoun.
"They ask for a meeting and then start shooting afterwards ... the tension has not eased."
RCAF Division 3 Commander Srey Doek said that while he hoped negotiations, and not gunfire, would resolve the ongoing dispute,
Cambodian soldiers would not hesitate to repulse any attempts by the Thai military to cross the border.
"We promise that we will not budge one centimetre, but we will not invade their territory by one centimetre either," he said, also expressing concern over the apparent ineffectiveness of talks.
THEY ASK FOR A MEETING AND THEN START SHOOTING AFTERWARDS.
"When we are meeting we reach an agreement, but after the meeting the Thais do not do what they promised," he said.
"Any future fighting will come down to them" [acting first], he said, adding that both sides had reinforced their special forces units at the border.
‘Barrage was deafening'
Cambodian soldiers said Sunday that their Thai opponents twice opened up with heavy barrages of small-arms and rocket fire in the worst outbreak of violence along the border since October, when clashes also erupted.
"It was very strong fighting. We came under heavy fire all along the front, but we couldn't see the Thai soldiers. They were shooting from everywhere, but we tried to pick our shots," said Khon Savoun.
According to Phorng Eung, an RCAF officer, Cambodian soldiers pushed the Thai troops from Veal Antri, or Eagle Field, the scene of some of the worst fighting.
"The noise from the Thai barrage was deafening," he said, adding that despite the high-level talks and an apparent front line detente - soldiers from both sides were lounging in hammocks or chatting with each other on Sunday - "rank-and-file soldiers still want to fight because they do not understand the situation".
Khon Savoun agreed, saying "our soldiers wanted to shoot more, but the leaders would not let them and they are angry".
"We are confident at the front line because we know that the Thai soldiers are not strong like the Vietnamese troops who we used to fight."
Thai soldiers continue to say that the fighting was the result of inexperienced soldiers accidentally crossing into Cambodian land.
"The Thai soldiers were new to the front and did not know the disputed areas," said Thai military surgeon Chalon Guran, who was among a group of soldiers loitering along the front.