Exchange of gunfire across the Thai-Cambodia border continued on Saturday, each side accusing the other of unveiling a newly-minted aggressive agenda.
In Bangkok, the Foreign Ministry said one Thai soldier was killed, raising the Army's death toll to four in two successive days of fighting. Many Thai soldiers were also said to have sustained injuries. And, a Cambodian military official in Phnom Penh broke down as he announced several deaths on his side.
Cambodia's Ministry of National Defence said “the apparent goal of Thailand's military aggression is to take control over … Tamone and Ta Krabei temples of Cambodia.”
These two temples, located “deep inside the Cambodian territory,” are distinct from the border-temple of Preah Vihear.
The internationally-adjudicated status of Preah Vihear as a Cambodian asset and its subsequent designation as a world heritage site are widely believed to be at the heart of hostilities.
Thailand said Cambodia “deployed its military force” in the general area of the temples now being cited by Phnom Penh and “fired field rockets into the area of civilian residences” of two villages and at a hospital inside the Thai province of Surin.
More than 16,000 Thai civilians were said to have been evacuated on Saturday in addition to the 10,000 others who were similarly taken care of on Friday.
The message from Bangkok was that Cambodia was now striking an aggressive posture towards civilians, not just the military, in Thailand.
This in turn fuelled speculation in East Asian circles that the Thai military was perhaps beginning to portray itself as a people-friendly outfit in the current domestic political situation.
Thailand's civilian Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has dropped hints of calling an election to seek a mandate in his own right, while the military-deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra told his supporters via a video-link from exile that the people would now have to “choose between a fake democracy and a real democracy.”
Keywords: Thailand-Cambodia clashes