Thailand reportedly has sent 200 troops to the Cambodian border near a disputed temple, amid growing tensions over construction on the Khmer side of the border, reports the Bangkok Post.
Un Chinda, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said road work close to the border, in an area claimed by Cambodia but which Thailand says had previously been agreed on as neutral territory, sparked the dispute. Controversial construction work has led Thailand to bolster its forces, raising fears of renewed clashes in 2015, military and government officials said yesterday.
According to the Phnom Penh Post, Chinda said he received an “informal letter from the Thai side” earlier this week “requesting that we postpone the road construction… and refill land” already excavated.
“We agreed with Thailand’s request to postpone the road construction, but we have not agreed to refill the land for the road as the construction will be ongoing because it is under the sovereignty of Cambodia,” he said. “The road construction is far… from the An Ses border, where the barbed wire between the two countries was placed.”
Chinda also denied reports of current plans to build a casino and hotel in the area, claiming that the construction was limited to a new road, which is being built next to an existing statue.
Despite claims that the situation is under control, Sok Phal, a deputy commander in RCAF who was in Preah Vihear this week, told the Phnom Penh Post that the standoff had already turned violent.
According to Phal, earlier this week, Thai soldiers attempted to enter the disputed territory and opened fire, leading Cambodian troops to shoot back in “self-defense.”
“Cambodians shot back and they [the Thai soldiers] were shot. They didn’t die; they were shot in the legs. But now there is not much information because they closed the area,” he said, adding that a “special envoy” had been sent to the border to investigate the clash.
Other Cambodian officials denied yesterday that any shooting had occurred, while Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached.
Vannarith Chheang, a lecturer in Asia-Pacific studies at the University of Leeds in England and a senior fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, agreed that fighting could be on the horizon, reports the Bangkok Post.
“The border tension between Cambodia and Thailand can possibly relapse into an armed conflict if there is no strong and effective mechanism to build trust and confidence between the two leaders of both countries,” he said by email.
Thailand’s failure to implement the International Court of Justice’s ruling last year that part of the hotly contested vicinity around Preah Vihear Temple largely belongs to Cambodia “poses a serious threat,” according to Chheang.
Fatal clashes along the border prompted Cambodia to ask the ICJ for a new ruling on land around the temple in 2011.
[Image via Bangkok Post]