Cambodia says 'full battle' on with Thailand in border area+ (EDS: UPDATING, INCORPORATING EARLIER URGENT STORY WITH SAME HEADLINE)
By Puy Kea PHNOM PENH, April 3 Kyodo
Cambodian and Thai troops are engaged Friday afternoon in a ''full battle'' with exchanges of artillery, mortar and automatic weapons fire in a disputed border region between the two countries, a Cambodian government spokesman told Kyodo News. Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said renewed, and escalated, fighting broke out shortly before 2 p.m. between forces ranged on both sides of a border area known as Eagle Field and near disputed Preah Vihear Temple that has been a Thai-Cambodian flashpoint since last July.
Only moments before the ''full battle,'' Gen. Srey Dek, Cambodia's frontline commander in the area, had told Kyodo News by telephone he met for two hours with his Thai counterpart and thought the tensions that had spilled into gunfire at 7:15 a.m. Friday had been defused. So far, there are few details from the battlefront, but it appears the afternoon fighting was completely unexpected. Eagle Field is about 2 kilometers west of the temple and was the site of the early morning firefight in which Gen. Srey Dek said he had been told that two Thai soldiers had been killed and three were wounded.
Cambodia has reported no casualties. In Bangkok early Friday, the Thai defense minister and army chief told reporters Thailand had had no casualties during the early morning skirmish. Both men also called the morning incident a ''misunderstanding'' and said Thailand had ''no intention'' of provoking a battle. In Phnom Penh on Friday morning, Phay Siphan said the early skirmish lasted about 5 minutes after Thai troops intruded into Cambodian territory.
But Sansern Kaewkumnerd, a Thai army spokesman, told Kyodo News in Bangkok the incident began when about 20 Cambodian soldiers crossed to a spot where a Thai soldier was badly injured by a land mine last Thursday. He insisted that position is inside Thai territory. Phay Siphan had said Thursday that a land mine left over from the time of the Cambodian civil war had exploded about 600 meters inside Cambodia, injuring a Thai soldier on his left leg.
He said about 30 Thai soldiers intruded into the area but returned to their previous position soon after the injured soldier was evacuated in a Thai military helicopter.
Gen. Srey Dek, who earlier told Kyodo News the tension had eased, said he told his Thai counterpart Friday that Cambodia insists it will not ''intrude even 1 inch'' into Thailand, but ''neither it will retreat 1 inch'' from its current position unless Thai troops return to positions they held before July last year when border tensions first boiled over.
The Thai side argues the Cambodian troops are now in Thai territory, while the Cambodians argue the Thai troops are in Cambodia. Both sides have refused for months to back away from their positions.