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
"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
"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