Oddar Meanchey provinceCambodia and Thai generals agreed to a ceasefire yesterday in an attempt to end a week of bloody fighting along the border near Oddar Meanchey province that has left at least 15 dead.
General Chea Morn, commander of Region 4 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, met with General Thawatchai Samutsakorn, commander of Region 2 of the Royal Thai Army, yesterday at the O’Smach border checkpoint. Both sides agreed to an immediate ceasefire, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence released yesterday.
The meeting followed fighting in the area that began before dawn yesterday and stretched to mid-morning.
The two sides agreed to halt all troop movements and said they would encourage frontline commanders to communicate with each other in order to avoid future clashes.
They pledged to return the thousands of displaced civilians on both sides of the border to their homes and reopen border checkpoints that have been closed. They also agreed that the two countries could address disputed territory near the centuries-old Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples – flashpoints for the clashes this week – through the bilateral Joint Border Committee.
The accord came just one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for a ceasefire in his first public statement on the week-long fighting and said Cambodia was open to resolving disputes at the two temples bilaterally.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the ceasefire covered the main scenes of hostilities since Friday near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, but not the area near Preah Vihear temple, where fighting broke out briefly on Tuesday.
Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha reportedly confirmed yesterday that the fragile truce had been brokered.
“A ceasefire has begun. Unit commanders of the two sides in the area had talks to end the fighting. Let’s wait and see whether there will be more fighting this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow,” Prayuth told the Bangkok Post.
The ceasefire negotiations came on the heels of roughly eight hours of heavy fighting near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples that erupted at about 2am yesterday morning after a brief midnight skirmish. Another Thai soldier died in fighting on Wednesday night, a Thai army spokesman told the Bangkok Post.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said no additional casualties had been reported on the Cambodian side yesterday.
The conflict has taken the lives of at least eight Cambodian and six Thai soldiers as well as one Thai civilian during the past week. At least 10 soldiers were killed in clashes between the two sides in early February near Preah Vihear.
A senior RCAF official who asked not to be named said yesterday that the ceasefire talks had eased tensions on the frontline in Oddar Meanchey, but that Cambodian soldiers remained wary.
“We find it hard to believe Thailand,” he said. “Our soldiers remain in position and on high alert at all times.”
Uy Sam Ath, director of the disaster management department at the Cambodian Red Cross, said yesterday that a total of 8,670 Cambodian families, or 35,266 people, had been displaced in the fighting. The vast majority have fled homes near the border in Oddar Meanchey, though 392 families from Banteay Meanchey province’s Banteay Chhmar district have fled their homes as well.
Evacuees have gathered in Oddar Meanchey’s Samroang town, roughly 45 kilometres from the border, at pagodas, schools and other relief sites set up by the Cambodian Red Cross. Many have been forced to sleep under building or tents during the heavy rain that has fallen this week.
At Oddar Meanchey provincial referral hospital, a group of four villagers including a three-year-old girl who had lost a toe were still recovering yesterday after being injured during Thai shelling this week.
“The ammunition landed just 50 metres from my home while we were hiding in a ditch,” said 42-year-old Heung Nat of Samroang district’s Bossov commune, who had injured her right arm.
At the Svay Tom military hospital in Siem Reap province, three soldiers were recovering yesterday after being wounded in mortar attacks earlier this week near Ta Moan temple.
Yon Pot, who sustained shrapnel wounds to his abdomen, said he was puzzled by the abrupt outbreak of fighting.
“I’ve been stationed at Ta Moan for four years and this is the first time there has been serious fighting,” he said.
“During Khmer New Year, the Thai soldiers came to dance with us and we used to be able to cross over to their side of the border with no problems. I’m extremely angry at what’s happened.”
A long-term solution to the border conflict, which has flared on and off since 2008, remains elusive. Thailand has insisted on bilateral talks, while Hun Sen said this week that he plans to raise the matter at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Indonesia next month.
Following the clashes in February, the two sides agreed in principle to accept unarmed Indonesian military observers on both sides of the border near Preah Vihear to ensure a ceasefire. These plans have since been delayed due to the reluctance of the Thai military to accept the proposal.