PHNOM PENH, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- The deadly crossfire between Thai and Cambodian troops Friday afternoon at the border area injured at least five Thai soldiers and killed one villager as the two countries' long-time dispute over an ancient temple had been under the spotlight recently.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Friday evening that Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha reported to him that both sides had already ceased fire at around 5.30 p.m. The PM also assigned the military to explain the entire incident.
Thai Public Broadcasting Service quoted Jurin Laksanawisit, Minister of Education, as saying that at least five Thai troops were wounded while one villager in Khantalalak district of eastern Si Sa Ket province was killed in the clash.
Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, Thai Royal Army's spokesman, told Xinhua the border clash started at about 3:15 p.m. after a cannon landed on Thai territory, though a military source in Cambodia said the clash was triggered as Thai bulldozers made the way to Beehive zone in front of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple and ignored warnings by Cambodian soldiers to stop crossing into their territory.
In response to this fresh incident, Thai military spokesman believed the artillery firing from Cambodia was unintentionally and caused by misunderstanding.
"We believe the firings were not intentionally and might have mistakenly occurred. We are now trying to control the situation. This is what the in-charge officials have initially reported but more detailed facts are needed to be examined," Sansern said.
Thai military spokesman said, however, should the Cambodian authorities gear up its military forces along the disputed area, Thailand would not give in. If Cambodia muscled up its military forces, the Thai army was ready to protect the national interest, he added.
Thai villagers living in Tambon Kao Thongchai, Kantharalak district in eastern Si Sa Ket province bordering Cambodia said they heard tens of artillery firings from the disputed 4.6 square kilometers near the Hindu temple but do not know from which side. Sporadic artillery fire could be heard for at least two hours and any artillery shells and a lot of bullet shells were found around the areas.
Residents in nine villages along the Thai side of the frontier have been asked to take shelter or leave the area, said a senior district official at Kantharalak district.
Over 50 shops at Sa Ngum checkpoint in Phusing district in Si Sa Ket which are situated about 100 kilometers away from the clashing point at Phu Makhua mountain were closed down immediately after the fierce shooting had took place.
Meanwhile, Cambodian vendors in border Sa Keo province opposite from Banteay Meanchey province of Cambodia also hastened to close their shops and crossed the border back to Cambodia after having learnt about disruption of the incident.
Kasit Piromya, Thai Foreign Minister said during a press conference in Phnom Penh that he would try his best to mend the ties of both countries.
Kasit said that the clash indicated that the border issue was very sensitive and the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO should handle the disputed issue very carefully.
"The border situation around temple is very sensitive and both sides should restrain."
The relationships between two countries should not be affected by a "minor conflict," Kasit added.
Meanwhile, Thai army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha made remarks Friday evening that he believed it would take some time for the Thai and Cambodian ties to be back to normalcy, but he supports the peaceful method.
"There is no use to resort to violent means. We have to handle the border issue extremely carefully; otherwise, it will badly affect the business in border provinces, lives of the Thai and the Cambodian people," Gen Prayuth said.
This latest confrontation occurred while Thailand's Foreign Kasit Piromya is in Cambodia for the 7th Joint Commission meeting to discuss with his counterpart the bilateral cooperation on various issues including the border matter.
Fresh tension between Thailand and Cambodia over the territorial dispute re-erupted as Cambodia refused to remove its national flag put up in front of Wat Keo Sikha Kiri Svarak pagoda located in the contentious areas of 4.6 square kilometers around the 11th century Hindu temple, triggering the military built-up from both sides.
The border between Thailand and Cambodia has never been completely demarcated and the issue of Preah Vihear temple has been an age-old dispute. Although the Internal Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple itself belonged to Cambodia, the row over land plot of 4.6 square kilometers around the temple has never been resolved.