Thailand shuts down tourist spots after fatal clashes


Thai authorities have indefinitely closed tourist spots near the Preah Vihear temple as Thai and Cambodian soldiers clashed twice in the vicinity today (Friday), leaving two Thai and two Cambodian soldiers dead and several injured.

Closed are Pha Mor E-Daeng cliff, the Khao Phra Viharn National Park and its gate to the Preah Vihear temple in Si Sa Ket province.

According to Maj. Gen. Thawatchai Samutsakhon, deputy chief of the Second Army, the clashes followed a landmine explosion that blew off a Thai soldier’s leg in Phu Ma Khua area a few kilometers west of Preah Vihear temple. It lies in an area which both Cambodia and Thailand claims to be its own.

After the explosion, 30 Thai soldiers visited the area Friday morning to clear landmines. Twenty-three Cambodian soldiers showed up and told the Thais to retreat, claiming it was Cambodian soil. The Thais resisted, and both sides started to fight at about 7:00 am. The clash lasted five minutes, and killed two Cambodian soldiers and injured nine.

A second round of shooting erupted at about 2:00 pm in an area about two kilometers away. Maj. Gen. Thawatchai said he assumes Cambodian troops came in search of revenge. The second round of the gun battle lasted about half an hour, killed two Thai soldiers, injured seven, and also set ablaze a Cambodian market near the entrance to Preah Vihear temple.

Cambodia has deployed more than 3,000 soldiers at the ancient temple ruins and Thailand had slightly over 2,000 troops on Pha Mor E-Daeng cliff, according to some reports. At the site of the deadly shooting, Phu Ma Khua, both sides left about 300 soldiers each to confront each other late on Friday.

Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon said the morning clash was an accident, which could normally result from misunderstandings by low-ranking officers as the forces of both sides were located close to each other. Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda said the morning clash resulted from a misunderstanding and officers at the scene would have to work out measures to prevent it from recurring. Initially, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was preparing to take serious action over the clashes but changed its mind in the evening when it acknowledged the incidents were caused by misunderstandings.

Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said army leaders of both sides have arranged to meet and the ministry would wait for the result. The government will lodge a protest over the incident with Cambodia, according to the ministry.

The government reaffirmed Thailand’s sovereignty over the area where the clashes took place. It called on the Cambodian side to avoid any use of force and to continue with negotiations under bilateral mechanisms.