Cambodian PM vows to improve defence as troops face Thais
October 17, 2008
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AFP) — Cambodia’s premier vowed Friday to improve national defence as his troops prepared to begin joint patrols with Thai soldiers at their disputed border to avoid another deadly firefight.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made the pledge at a cabinet meeting that included a moment of silence for the three Cambodian soldiers who died this week after gunfights with Thai troops on disputed land.
“Today our cabinet, with the pride we received from protecting our territory, will discuss draft laws (to put the) national defence sector on top,” Hun Sen said, without elaborating on specific steps.
While Thailand has a 300,000-strong armed forces and a well-equipped air force, Cambodia’s much smaller military is badly equipped, badly trained and disorganised, according to a Western military official in Bangkok.
The prime minister made his remarks as Thai and Cambodian soldiers faced off along the border, awaiting joint patrols which senior military officials agreed to in a Thursday meeting.
The agreement was aimed at preventing a repeat of Wednesday’s clashes on disputed land near the Preah Vihear temple, a UN heritage site on Cambodian territory and the focus of months of tensions.
Two Cambodian soldiers were killed and seven Thais injured by gun and rocket fire, and a third Cambodian soldier died Thursday of smoke inhalation from repeatedly firing his rocket-launcher.
“Today we received the order to be well-prepared. The joint patrols have not yet been put in practice,” said Cambodian Major Menly, who oversees more than 100 troops at the frontlines of the disputed border.
It was not clear when the joint patrols would begin, but Thai and Cambodian soldiers appeared more relaxed Friday, with some even stashing way their rifles and rocket launchers.
“The situation is less tense,” Thai border task force commander Major General Kanok Netrakavaesana said.
The eruption of violence this week came after talks on Monday about the border dispute ended in failure, with Hun Sen warning of armed conflict and the Thai army saying it was prepared for a confrontation.
Troops began massing on both sides of the border, while Thailand sent tanks and heavy weaponry to the area and put fighter jets on stand-by.
After the clash, the United Nations, United States and European Union heaped pressure on Thailand and Cambodia to exercise restraint, and leaders in both nations said they were committed to avoiding further conflict.
But the neighbours have blamed each other for starting the violence, and a war of words over who owns the patches of disputed land continues.
Thailand has also accused Cambodia of planting the landmines which injured two Thai troops on the border earlier this month, breaching the international treaty banning the use of landmines, which Thailand and Cambodia have signed.
Officials in Cambodia, however, deny that they were fresh mines, and said they were the remnants of their three-decade long civil war.
The current standoff first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering some Thai nationalists who claim ownership of the site.
The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the main disputed area.
The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.
Cambodia on Thursday denied it had recently planted mines in the area near Preah Vihear, with the foreign ministry insisting Phnom Penh adheres to international treaties banning landmines.
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