Breaking a tenuous ceasefire that has held since deadly clashes in February, Cambodian and Thai soldiers exchanged heavy fire on the border Friday morning.
Three Cambodian soldiers and three Thai soldiers were reported dead by respective military officials, following more than six hours of skirmishing near Ta Krabei temple in Oddar Meanchey province, 200 kilometers west of the typical flashpoint of Preah Vihear temple.
The site of Friday’s fighting was about 25 kilometers from Ta Moan, a temple claimed by both sides.
Each side blamed the other for starting the fighting, which began around 6 am.
“The truth is Thai infantry soldiers entered Cambodian territory and ambushed us at Ta Krabei temple when our troops were on patrol,” Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Defense told reporters Friday morning. “At the same time they launched heavy weapons more than 20 kilometers at our base and on
Cambodian officials said Thai rockets and artillery landed well inside Cambodian territory, in what government spokesman Phay Siphan called “an invasion.”
Werachon Sukondhapatipak, a spokesman for the Thai military, told VOA in Bangkok that Cambodia had sent soldiers to an area where they were not supposed to be.
“We sent our soldiers to inform them to pull out from that area…but they opened fire to Thai soldiers first,” he said.
Cambodia sent missives to the UN Security Council and Indonesia, the current head of Asean, to report the fighting and seek mediation. Indonesia’s foreign minister called for an immediate ceasefire.
Indonesia has sought to mediate the ongoing border dispute since February, but agreements for a potential observer mission have sputtered. Thailand has continued called for bilateral talks, but Cambodia says it wants third-party intermediaries.
Meanwhile, politically volatile Thailand is poised for contentious elections in coming months.