Cambodian PM downplays clashes on Thai border

Hun Sen compares fighting, in which 3 Thai soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded, to a spat between neighbors.

cambodia soldier thai border 248 (photo credit: )
cambodia soldier thai border 248
(photo credit: )
Cambodia's prime minister on Saturday downplayed the border clashes that killed at least three Thai soldiers near a disputed 11th century temple as a mere "incident" between neighbors that would not break out into war with Thailand. Military commanders from both sides said calm had been restored after Friday's fighting, which saw troops exchange fire with assault rifles and rocket launchers along Cambodia's northern border near an 11th century temple. Thailand acknowledged that three of its soldiers had been killed and 12 wounded. Cambodia said its military suffered no casualties. Cambodia earlier said as many as four were killed. "Yesterday there was brief fighting, but the fighting was like neighbors who live close to each other and always have disputes," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said. "Today they have a dispute, then they soothe things and talk to each other." The border area has been a hot spot since Thailand took offense over Cambodia having the Preah Vihear temple declared a UN World Heritage site last year. Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple, also claimed by Thailand, is on Cambodian territory, many Thais still rankle over the decision. Thailand also maintains claims to nearby land where the fighting took place. Hun Sen, who just a few days earlier had issued a fierce warning that Thailand would face tough fighting if its troops crossed into disputed territory near the temple, struck a conciliatory tone Saturday. Smiling as he spoke, he described burst of combat as an "incident," not a war. Hun Sen was speaking to several hundred people at a village he established for disabled army veterans and their families. The sometimes volatile leader was celebrating his 58th birthday. He said Friday's fighting was triggered when Thai soldiers advanced into heavily mined territory claimed by Cambodia and ignored warnings to turn back. Thai officials denied any intrusion and said Cambodian troops fired first. He emphasized that the fighting left no Cambodian soldiers killed or wounded, with "not even a scratch." Thailand's deputy regional commander, Maj. Gen. Tawatchai Samutsakorn, said three of his country's soldiers were killed - one who died in hospital Friday night - and 12 wounded. Cambodian armed forces commander Gen. Pol Saroeun said the situation along the border was now calm. "There are no more confrontations, and both sides' front-line commanders will have negotiations," he said. Leaders in both countries have a history of playing to nationalist sentiment in sovereignty disputes. Cambodians are very sensitive to perceived slights by their larger, richer neighbor Thailand, which many Cambodians see as arrogant. Domestic political power struggles in Thailand in the past few years have led to an upsurge of nationalist sentiment there that few politicians are willing to buck and some use for leverage against their rivals. The tensions erupted in brief border clashes last year, killing two Cambodian soldiers and one Thai, and both sides have stepped up deployment of soldiers at the border since then.