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Villagers flee the border

Villagers flee the border

Villagers in Oddar Meanchey province have fled their homes amid growing front-line tension and reports of troop reinforcement on the Cambodia-Thai border, local officials said yesterday.

Relations between the countries have become increasingly strained since Thailand announced on Saturday that it  was  walking away from a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Paris, primarily over the discussion of a Cambodian management plan for Preah Vihear temple. Thailand has claimed the plan  threatens its territorial integrity.

Ma Moa, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces division 41, said yesterday  his troops had begun fortifying their positions at Ta Moan mountain, near the Oddar Meanchey border, because they had observed Thai forces reinforcing and had been warned by their superiors of looming conflict.

“On the 27th, [deputy commander-in-chief of the RCAF] Kun Kim visited the troops stationed in Banteay Ampil district and said that in two days Thailand will attack our country, so we have to take precautions,” he said.

Kun Kim could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pej Sinath, the chief of Thmar Daun village in Banteay Ampil district, said yesterday people from his front-line community and nearby Hanumarn village had fled 15 kilometres back from the border to Wat Ku pagoda, following warnings from Kun Kim and district governor Chap Phat, who was also not available for comment yesterday.

“Residents along the border have dug trenches at their houses already – they were digging to protect themselves,” Pej Sinath said.

Villagers said others had fled to the pagoda from Kokmon village, near the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples – the scene of deadly clashes between Thailand and Cambodia in April.

Patt Kimkol, 39, from Thmar Daun, said yesterday he had fled to the  Wat Ku pagoda because he feared conflict.

“We have previous experiences, so there’s no need to wait until the shooting begins. We just wrapped up our clothes and ran,” he said.

The Bangkok Post reported on Monday that Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha had said troop levels were increasing on the border and bunkers were being reinforced, while stressing the measures were precautionary.

The apparent military build-up comes a few days before Thailand’s national election, in which polling has shown the opposition Pheu Thai party holds a slim lead.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said yesterday border tensions were sparked by domestic concerns and although neither country would want full-scale war, a stray shot could spark violent skirmishes.

“It can erupt … but no one is using this for anything other than domestic political theatre,” Thayer said.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva had made no order to reinforce border troops and had merely placed those already stat-ioned there on alert. “We are not stepping up our troops, and we are not threatening anyone,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, Cambodian defence ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said Thai reports that Cambodia had reinforced its troops were exaggerated and the situation remained normal.

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