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Thai forces try border move

Thai forces try border move

Thai military forces have punched a road six kilometers into Cambodian territory

from Chanthaburi Province and are currently fortifying positions around Phnom Preuk

in northwestern Battambang Province in an apparently blatant land grab that has stunned

both RCAF officials and western diplomats.

Up to 500 troops are believed to be stationed on what is understood to be the largest

of 18 similar incursions along the Thai-Cambodian border. There are also reports

of breaches of Cambodian airspace by Thai military aircraft along the border in support

of the military incursion.

Meanwhile in a dramatic escalation of a series of reported border tensions Thai troops

have warned off RCAF forces attempting to approach the largest disputed area, which

lies between Pailin and Malai, and are reportedly laying anti-personnel mines to

solidify their control.

According to RCAF General Mean Sarin, Deputy Commander of Border Protection, the

Thai military incursion was first detected in early March by a routine RCAF border

patrol that encountered Thai troops in Battambang's remote Phnom Preuk District.

"The Thais told our troops to go back the way they came or there would be 'trouble',"

Sarin explained. "The RCAF forces retreated because they noticed that the Thais

had laid land mines in the area ahead of them."

Sarin's allegations have been verified by western diplomatic sources in Phnom Penh.

"I've been told that there has been a Thai incursion," a western diplomatic

source told the Post. "The Thais have come right across the border and built

a road right into Cambodian territory."

The diplomatic source pointed to the traditional "porous nature" of the

Thai-Cambodian border and the lack of Cambodian official presence along the 800 kilometer

frontier for the recent incursion.

"The Thais might just be occupying an area that they consider a 'vacuum',"

the source explained. "Keep in mind that a lot of border areas are not subject

to any [Cambodian] government control."

Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath told the Post that he was not aware

of the Thai incursion, and expressed skepticism and irritation with regard to Sarin's

allegations.

"I have not received this report...we have a good relations with the Royal Thai

military," the Prince said. "This is a matter that should be discussed

with Thais and not the press."

However, RCAF Chief of Staff Chea Saran confirmed that the incident had occurred,

and told the Post that "the issue was to be handled by the Border Affairs Commission".

In a special March 29 meeting about the crisis with Ministry of Defense officials,

Sarin recommended a deployment of weapons and aircraft in the Thai border area to

act as a "scarecrow" against potential future incursions, a suggestion

derided by General Ek Somaun of Military Region Five Headquarters in Battambang.

"If you look at Cambodian maps, [Phnom Preuk] is in Cambodia, but if you look

at Thai maps, it's in Thailand," Somaun explained. "It's up to the Border

Affairs Commission to solve this problem...it has nothing to do with the military."

A western military analyst agreed saying that the tempers needed to be cooled in

the area.

"I condemn any suggestion to move weapons or troops into the disputed area."

He said he believed ill discipline could lead to a confrontation between soldiers

on both sides and that might result in a border clash.

He said this was a matter to be resolved politically and diplomatically and added

the matter was now urgent. He added that he believed that "the greatest security

concerns facing Cambodia at this time were border issues and land grabbing."

And a western diplomatic source said that the odds of Cambodia successfully resolving

the dispute either militarily or diplomatically were not high.

"RCAF just doesn't have much in the way of functional heavy weaponry needed

to fortify the border," the source said. "And Cambodia depends on Thai

cooperation for everything from the control of illegal logging and mining to the

illegal trade in antiquities ...I'm not sure the Cambodian government has the wherewithal

to do anything [diplomatically] in this matter."

Repeated attempts by the Post to contact Va Kimhong, Chairman of Cambodia's Border

Control Commission and the Thai Embassy's Military Attaché Colonel Virasak

were unsuccessful.

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