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Soldier tells his side of border clash

Soldier tells his side of border clash

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Preah vihear province

Thais suddenly opened fire while walking away, he says

Heng Chivoan

Cambodian soldier Chi Meng shows where he was slightly wounded during last Friday’s firefight with Thai troops over disputed territory near Preah Vihear temple, which has been the focus of a prolonged military standoff between the two countries. Last week’s incident was the first eruption of violence since the crisis began in July.

WITH a mix of bravado and surprise, Cambodian soldier Chi Meng describes the few short minutes last Friday during which a simmering standoff with Thai soldiers over disputed territory on the two countries' border erupted in violence.

Like they had numerous times before, he said, Thai troops had come to chat with the seven Cambodians deployed some two kilometres from Preah Vihear temple, an 11th-century ruin and flashpoint for the continuing faceoff between the two armies.

"I told them that we couldn't negotiate the dispute here. I told them to leave the problem to the top levels of government to be solved," said the 33-year-old former Khmer Rouge fighter who said he joined the military after the movement's collapse in 1998.

The 16 Thai troopers turned away, he said, adding: "I didn't really think too much about it because Thai soldiers usually come to talk to us." But they suddenly swung on the Cambodians and opened fire.

"I would never have thought that the Thai soldiers had decided to fire on us after they had already turned away," Chi Meng told the Post Monday.

"We weren't paying attention and had to defend ourselves with a B-40 rocket and AK rifles," he added.

The Thai government has insisted it was Cambodian soldiers who intruded on Thai territory and provoked the shoot-out that left two Thais and Chi Meng wounded.

"The Cambodian soldiers suddenly opened fire at the Thai rangers who were unarmed, prompting the Thai unit stationed nearby to return fire to protect the Thai personnel in self-defence," a Thai foreign ministry statement released Sunday said.

But Both Chi Meng and Bang Chin, another Cambodian trooper involved in the clash, dispute the claim.

"The Thais were firing many bullets at us - they were aiming to kill us," Chi Meng said, claiming that he shot one Thai soldier in the stomach and adding: "I watched him drop his gun and flee."

I THINK THE THAI SOLDIERS WERE LUCKY THAT DAY.

Despite pleas for calm following the Friday fighting and the ensuing crisis talks between Cambodian and Thai military commanders in the area, two land mine blasts Monday that wounded Thai soldiers have put the front line back on edge, with some Cambodian soldiers  convinced the Thais were preparing to mount an assault.
"From now on I won't allow [a similar incident] to happen," said Chi Meng. "I think the Thai soldiers were lucky that day. If we decide to attack, I don't think many of them are going to keep their lives."

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