Thai PM calls for unity after fresh clashes break out on border; about 3,000 Thais evacuated; Army spokesman claims up to 64 Cambodian soldiers were killed, armoured tanks destroyed
Thai and Cambodian generals yesterday agreed to a cease-fire as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called for national unity in response to the border conflict with Cambodia.
Citing a passage in the national anthem, Abhisit said Thailand will not intimidate neighbouring countries but is always ready to defend its sovereignty.
The premier also gave full backing to the military, which clashed with Cambodian troops on Friday and yesterday morning.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, meanwhile, told ambassadors from 16 Asian countries and United Nations Security Council members that the Thai military had responded appropriately in the border conflict.
According to Kasit, the Thai military action was in self-defence as the country always exercised reasonable caution on the border issue.
Since the border skirmish started on Friday, one Thai soldier - Sergeant Wutthicharin Chartkamdee - and one villager were killed with another 12 soldiers wounded, according to Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
Sansern said one Cambodian villager was killed while 60-64 Cambodian soldiers died. In addition, Cambodia lost 12 to 13 tanks and armoured vehicles.
Abhisit yesterday chaired a top-level meeting of the armed forces, national security and related agencies, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Kasit, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Army chief Prayut Chan-ocha.
Also present was Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who represents Thailand in overseas meetings concerning the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage Site.
Abhisit said Thailand was attacked first so it had to respond. The country also viewed the areas around the Preah Vihear Temple as "very sensitive", therefore nothing should be done to increase the tensions between the countries.
"That means the World Heritage registration procedures [with regard to areas surrounding the ancient Hindu temple] should now be suspended. We have been warning the World Heritage Committee for quite some time," Abhisit said.
Abhisit said the Interior Ministry would also take care of Thais affected by the skirmishes, especially those evacuated from their houses.
About 3,000 Thais had to be evacuated from the border area.
"This is the time I would like to see Thais united and supporting our military and soldiers who protect our sovereignty. I believe in our national anthem that Thais love peace but are also ready to fight," he said.
Army spokesman Sansern said Cambodian troops started yesterday's clashes when they fired rocket-propelled grenades into a Thai army camp near the border shortly after dawn.
He said the clash escalated into a 20-minute artillery exchange in which one Thai soldier was killed and four others were wounded.
Sansern said yesterday's clashes were followed by talks between Second Army Region commander Lt-Colonel Tawatchai Samutsakorn, who is in charge of Thai troops in the sensitive border area, and his Cambodian counterpart. The cease-fire also included a deal that neither side would increase the level of their troops in the area and that military commanders would ensure that there would be no accidental clashes.
According to an official statement from the Thai Foreign Ministry, "On February 4, 2011, at 15.20 hours, Cambodian troops opened fire at a Thai military base at Phu Ma Khua in Thai territory using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifles. At 16.20 hrs of the same day, Cambodian troops also opened fire from the area of the Temple of Phra Viharn [Preah Vihear] at a Thai military base at Pha Mor I Dang in Thai territory."
"In between the two incidents, several artillery shells were also fired by Cambodian troops into Phum Srol village in Si Sa Ket province of Thailand located about 5 kilometres from the border area."
"The incidents led to one Thai civilian casualty, six injured military personnel and severe damage to seven civilian houses. Moreover, 3,000 civilians residing along the border area had to be evacuated.
"The attack carried out by the Cambodian troops constituted an act of aggression and a clear violation of Thai sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thai troops were left with no choice but to exercise the inherent right of self-defence in accordance with international law.
"While Thailand reaffirms its commitment to resolve the boundary dispute through peaceful means, it reserves its legitimate right to defend its sovereignty."
The Nation, Bangkok