One Cambodian soldier was shot three times and a Thai soldier was reportedly injured in a brief exchange of gunfire on the Cambodian-Thai border in the vicinity of Preah Vihear temple on Monday, military officials said yesterday.
According to Colonel Meas Yoeun, deputy military commander for Preah Vihear, the soldier in question – who survived the shooting – was fired upon as he was patrolling alone at about 1pm near the An Ses border crossing, east of the 11th-century temple.
The top military commanders in the area, General Chea Tara and General Srey Doek, had gone to visit the area to determine the cause of the incident yesterday morning, but the situation at the border was normal, he added.
Preap Theurt, an information official with the military in Preah Vihear province, said that victim Var Savuth, 35, was shot in both legs and once in the back at about 12:50pm.
“He is currently in a military health centre for treatment,” he said. “He was shot while patrolling alone, as usual, then got fired upon.”
One military official in Preah Vihear province, who asked to be identified only as Chamroeun, said he believed it was unlikely that the incident was an accident.
“Normally, we have regular meetings [with the Thais] and inform each other about patrols, so I think it was prepared in advance,” he said.
However, while commanders Tara and Doek could not be reached for comment yesterday, Tara reportedly attributed the incident to “confusion”.
“A brave Cambodian soldier from Unit 405 of the military in Preah Vihear province and a Thai soldier got injured yesterday as there was some confusion,” he was quoted as saying. “The situation is normal; soldiers always obey their orders from superiors.”
Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-kilometre border, and the two countries’ troops have exchanged fire, including artillery bombardments, several times around a disputed patch of land surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries since the complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
The two countries have yet to implement a 2013 ruling from the International Court of Justice awarding Cambodia the temple’s immediate vicinity, though both sides have repeatedly insisted that they will maintain peace and implement the ruling once the Thai political situation has stabilised.
Koy Kuong, a spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that he had not yet received word of the shooting and could not speak as to how it might affect diplomatic relations between the countries.
“We cannot comment right now,” Kuong said. “We will check with our consulate general in Sakeo province in Thailand first.”
Two officials within the Thai Foreign Ministry had no information regarding the shooting as of press time yesterday, and multiple others could not be reached.
In an unrelated incident, two Cambodian loggers were shot to death in the same area just a day before the military shooting, according to Theurt, the military information officer. The bodies remain in Thailand while Cambodian officials attempt to repatriate them.
“They will not allow us to get inside their land,” he said, adding that since early September there had already been several instances of Thai soldiers shooting loggers who had illegally crossed over from Cambodia.
The report of the shooting comes just days after Thailand released widely disputed figures saying that “there have been no reports of clashes or losses of life” among loggers on either side of the border.
An emailed request for comment that was sent to Thailand’s Foreign Ministry regarding the shootings and the allegedly conflicting figures had not been returned as of press time.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE