By Larry Palmer
Source: News From Kampuchea, Vol. 1(4), October 1977, published in Sydney, Australia
On the night of 28 January 1977, a violent incident occurred along the Thai-Kampuchean border near the frontier towns of Aranyaprathet (in Thailand’s Prachinburi province) and Poipet (in Kampuchea’s Battambang province). This incident was widely, although tardily reported in the western press . In general the gist of this reportage was as follows: Kampuchean troops in an unprovoked and coordinated surprise attack, crossed the border into Thailand and massacred the unarmed civilian inhabitants of three Thai villages. Some hypothesized that the Kampucheans were foraging for food; others claimed that “informed sources” had told them that the Kampucheans were upset because the villagers in question had double-crossed them in a business deal . Most reporters did not bother to delve into the circumstances surrounding the incident and when the Kampucheans, after a lengthy investigation, released their version of events two weeks later, it was treated with derision or simply not reported at all. Yet the bulk of the available evidence, most of which comes from Thai sources, indicates that the Kampuchean version is more credible than that of the Thai government.
The key to the Kampuchean account is the claim that the villages involved are on Kampuchean territory. The villages, the Kampucheans say, were established during the tenure of Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic, which was too weak to protest such Thai encroachments. To evaluate this Kampuchean claim, it is necessary to look at the history of the Thai-Kampuchean boarder in this area in some detail.
The present day Thai province of Prachinburi was an important part of the ancient Khmer empire until Thai forces conquered a Khmer princely capital in the area many centuries ago. Even today, ethnic Khmers inhabit parts of the province and the border between Thailand and Kampuchea does not constitute a real ethnic divide. The current border was established in negotiations between Thai royal and French “protectorate” authorities at the turn of the century. This colonially determined border was in force until 1941, when Thailand’s then military dictatorship, backed by Japan, launched its army and navy against Kampuchean territory and forced the cession of vast tracks of the northwest region of the country to Thailand. After World War II, a short lived civilian government in Bangkok agreed to the return of the “disputed” territory to Kampuchea and the pre-war border was restored.
The Prachinburi-Battambang border that was restored after World War II is unique from the rest of the Thai-Kampuchean border in three respects.
Firstly, large sections of it do not follow any natural feature; neither a stream nor a watershed is used. Second, the border therefore is located neither in water nor on rugged hill or mountaintops and is thus suitable for cultivation. Third, the original maps prepared by a joint Thai-French Commission in 1906-1909 show a different boundary line from later maps for a lengthy stretch of the border. The original Thai-French maps not only show a single line segment in an area where the later maps show three, but that line segment is generally to the west of those on the later maps. In other words, the original Thai-French map shows as Kampuchean parts of what later maps show as within Prachinburi. This fact is probably at the root of a Kampuchean official’s remark after the 28 January incident that “the existing maps which are being used are neither accurate nor correct”.
Even if the delimitation of the more recent maps should be accepted as the result of some mutually agreed upon adjudication process, the border problem would be far from solved. Delimitation would have to be followed by accurate demarcation, especially since long sections of the Prachinburi-Battambang border consist of arbitrarily drawn straight line segments lacking a readily recognizable basis in the natural geography of the area. Without accurate demarcation, local residents cannot be certain exactly where the boundary line is located. The original Thai-French negotiations resulted in the placement of wooden border markers. These soon rotted away and were replaced with stone versions after World War I. The numbering and perhaps the location of these markers are not consistent on Thai and Kampuchean maps. The distance between them is absurdly large, almost 20 in some areas and this naturally leads to local confusion. Furthermore, Thai officials admitted in 1876 that in other areas Thais had physically moved the markers into Kampuchean territory in order to increase the land available for logging. The same thing may well have happened along the Prachinburi-Battambang border at some point in time.
These problems of delimitation and demarcation right have remained theoretical were it not for the recent rapid population growth in both Thailand and Kampuchea. This growth has created increasing land hunger in both these “traditionally underpopulated” countries, although the problem is much worse in Thailand, where the population density is almost twice that in Kampuchea. Thus, Prachinburi’s remote border areas, which until the early 1060’s were sparsely populated forests, have very quickly been filling up with Thai peasants. The non-municipal population of Aranyaprathet district rose from 16,648 in 1960 to 29,491 in 1970, an increase of 77%. The population of Prachinburi’s other border district, Ta Phraya, which was apparently carved out of existing districts in the mid 1960’s to accommodate administratively the new influx of people, has grown even more spectacularly. In ten years, Ta Phraya’s population nearly doubled; from 16,725 in 1960 to 32,839 in 1970 These massive population increases along the Prachinburi Battambang border occurred during a period in which the population of Thailand as a whole increased only 31%, from 26 to 34 million.
The population explosions in Aranyaprathet and Ta Phraya districts have probably continued and possibly even accelerated since 1970. Large scale migrations of population have typically ensued in Thailand when previously inaccessible areas have been opened up by the construction of roads. Construction of a major road paralleling the Prachinburi-Battambang border, planned since 1965, apparently began in 1973. Since then, this road has pushed steadily northeastward from Aranyaprathet to Ta Phraya and on into the neighboring Thai province of Buriram, almost certainly bringing with it large numbers of land-seeking peasants from nearby overcrowded provinces.
Most of the influx of Thai nationals into Aranyaprathet and Ta Phraya districts has been the result of spontaneous peasant migration. However, government planned relocation has played an important pioneering role. In 1958 the Self-Help Land Settlement Bureau of the Bangkok Department of Public Welfare took charge of 162,000 rai …(approximately 260 square kilometres) of land in an area of Aranyaprathet district known as Khlong Namsai (“Clear Water Canal”). This forested land was reserved for allocation to landless and landpoor peasants. As these peasants poured in, they began expanding the Namsai Canal network to irrigate their crops and claiming it as the border between Thailand and Kampuchea. According to 1976 admissions by Thai officials, after 1964 this expansion included the construction of illegal dams and reservoirs within Kampuchean territory.
In 1965, 6000 rai (10 square kilometres) of the Khlong Namsai reservoirs were turned over to the Thai War Veterans’ Welfare Organisation so that it could carve its own border settlement out of the existing deep forest. Such veterans’ settlements were explicitly designed to be of “strategic military value”. The army’s Khlong Namsai settlement was probably a part of the cold war that Thailand launched against Kampuchea in reaction to the International Court’s 1962 decision that Thailand must end its illegal occupation of Kampuchea’s Preah Vihear temple (located about 190 kilometres east of Prachinburi province).
Both the civilian and the military Khlong Namsai settlements grew steadily into the 1970’s and have not yet reached their planned full sizes. Furthermore, the military settlement has had continuous problems with immigrant peasants who have trespassed on and taken over lands assigned to it. Apparently, land hungry Thai peasants have little respect for the boundary between claimed and unclaimed land within Thailand. It is likely that they have little more respect for disputed and poorly marked international boundaries.
The exact locations, the correct names, and even the number of villages involved in the 28 January incident are all matters of considerable confusion in the available Thai and Thai-based sources. This confusion suggests that even among the Thais themselves there is real uncertainty about where the villages are and what their relation to the border is. Some accounts, talk of four villages involved in the incident, while most name only three. One of the villages is usually referred to as Ban Noi Parai, but sometimes simply as Ban Parai.
Another is variously referred to as Ban Khlong Kho, Ban Nong Kho, Ban Khlong Ta Kho, Ban Nong Ta Kho, Ban Khlong Krok Kho, or Ban Khok Ko. A third village is usually called Ban Nong Do, but also appears as Ban Nong Dor, and Ban Khlong Do, . When a fourth village is included it is either “Village No. 1 in tambon Tha Kriap” or Ban Yay Muey. The Kampucheans, for their part, call the villages Phum Kor, Phum Duang, and Phum Pteah Dap Khnong. Many accounts, including the official Thai government White Paper on the incident make no attempt to locate the villages in relation to a major town. Most accounts which do make the attempt to put them scattered around Ban Noi Parai several miles north of Aranyaprathet town. One Thai official, however, locates the two other villages 46 Kilometres from Aranyprathet town.
There are also wide discrepancies concerning the villages’ distance from what the Thais feel is the boundary line. While some foreign news reports assert that the villages are “3-4 kilometres” from the border, the (Thai) government Prachinbur province says they are “less than 100 metres” inside what he considers Thai territory. Yet even the Thai Minister of Interior, Samak Sunthorawet, has admitted that it is not clear what should be considered Thai territory. Shortly after the incident Samak stated:
“The 48 kilometre stretch of this particular border has no clear-cut boundary line. It is comprised of flat fields, woods, and pastures… There is no fence at the border and no river which can be used as a demarcation line….”
On the same occasion, Interior Minister Samak made several other perhaps overly candid statements. He revealed that:
“in the past no one gave any thought to crossing the border to make their living… The Thai people living along the border, who outnumbered their Kampuchean counterparts, lived peacefully, as usual. In other words, crop cultivation was carried out on every piece of land along the border in the area was only sparsely inhabited woods…”
Samak then put forward the proposition that the best way to establish the location of the border in the area was to fly over it and observe the settlement patters:
“The part which belongs to Thailand is cleared and used for cultivation which that on the Kampuchean side is deserted …”
In other words, what Thai settlers (“colonists” to use the Kampuchean term) have cleared and cultivated becomes part of Thailand.
This “theory” of border determination appears to have direct relevance to the three villages involved in the 28 January incident. Available evidence suggests strongly that these villages were indeed newly cleared and settled.
Detailed 1:50,000 scale maps compiled by Thai authorities in co-operation with the United States Army in the mid 1960’s show no villages by any of the various Thai names in the disputed area. The villagers were not engaged in the rice cultivation typical of long established settlements, but rather were producing large quantities of quick growing and easily grown cash crops, just like the immigrants in the nearby government and army sponsored Khlong Namsai settlements. Even the name of one of the villages indicates its origin; Ban Noi Parai literally means “Little Village of Forest Fields”.
The sum of the circumstantial evidence thus lends considerable plausibility of the Kampuchean claim that the area in which the three villages are located is Kampucheans territory recently colonized by Thai nationals. The Kampucheans set the date as 1972. They note that the Lon No1 regime was too weak to protest. Indeed throughout the was Lon No 1 was dependent upon Thai military support and was thus unlikely to be willing to antagonize the generals then in charge of Bangkok. This timidity and the resulting danger of the establishment of Thai hegemony over Battambang province was the subject of much bitter commentary by the underground (but violently anti-communist) press in Phnom Penh, especially in 1973-1975.
At the very least, the available evidence demonstrates the existence of legitimate territorial disputes in the Noi Parai area in particular and along the Prachinburi-Battambang border in general. As will be seen below, the civilian administrations that attempted to govern Thailand from October 1973 to October 1976 recognized this; the military group that took power after October 1976 does not.
The second key element of the Kampuchean version of events is the accusation that the villages involved, like much of the Thai-Kampuchean border area, were being employed as a sanctuary zone by Thai-supported right-wing Kampuchean guerrillas dedicated to the destruction of the present Phnom Penh government. This charge, too, has deep historical roots.
After the end of World War II and the retrocession of the areas of Kampuchea occupied by Thailand during the war, the central Thai military regime in Bangkok and a number of big Thai landowning families in the border provinces gave support to various socially conservative Kampucheans who, for one reason or another, opposed then King Sihanouk’s strategy for winning Kampuchean independence from France. These Kampucheans, who formed the amorphous right wing of a factionalised anti-colonial movement known generically as the “Khmer Issarak”. Included such men as Son Ngoc Thanh, Dep Chhuon, and Prince Norodom Chantarangsey. Through the good offices of the Thai military and police, these anti-communist maquisards made contact with American diplomatic personnel in Bangkok, who apparently considered them a possible counterforce to the growing leftist domination of the anti-Sihanoukist independence movements in the 1950-1954 period. A lasting connection among Kampuchean rightists, the Thai military and police, and the American CIA resulted.
Dap Chhoun rallied to Sihanouk before independence was won at the end of 1953 and was given warlord-like control of large areas of Kampuchean near the Thai border that amounted to nearly one quarter of the country’s territory. Dap Chhoun ruled his fiefdom until 1959. In that years he was killed in the aftermath of an abortive attempt to separate these provinces from Kampuchea. This incident, known as the “Bangkok Plot”, was allegedly masterminded by the CIA with co-operation from Thai and South Vietnamese generals. After the plot’s collapse, Dap Chhoun’s surviving co conspirators fled to Thailand.
Prince Chantarangsey rallied to Sihanouk with the coming of independence. His fiefdom was located in Kampong Speu province, southwest of Phnom Penh. During the 1970-1975 war he commanded a semi-autonomous military division in this area. After the defeat of the Lon Nol army, he reportedly fled into nearby Cardamomes mountains, although there are reports that he was subsequently killed. Some of his supporters, who periodically co-ordinate their operation with other rightists saboteur groups, presently are to be found along the Thai-Kampuchean frontier.
Son Ngoc Thanh never rallied to Sihanoukist Kampuchea. Instead he became an exile and dedicated his life to Sihanouk’s destruction. Thanh took advantage of American material and moral support to this end. He became head of the CIA, backed Khmer Serei movement, which was founded in 1958 and operated out of Thai and South Vietnamese bases until the 1970 coup.
After a brief and stormy tenure as Lon Nol’s prime minister in 1972 , Thanh went into exile in South Vietnam, where he remained after the end of the war. Many of his followers, however, made their way to Paris, where they formed a “resistance government” that also operates out of the Thai border bases.
From 1970 to 1975 Thailand served as the United States main sanctuary for operations against Kampuchea.
It also served as a safe rear area for the Lon Nol military, Training, transit facilities, and occasional “special operation” by Thai forces were provided. Some local Thai officials also offered to provide bases for American backed guerrilla actions into Kampuchea’s liberated zones.
The end of the war in April 1975 brought remnants of the various factions of the Lon Nol military across the border into Thailand. These included not only defeated followers of Prince Chantarangsey and of CIA client Son Ngoc Thanh , but also of “General” Sek San Iet, the massively corrupt Lon Nol governor of Battambang province.
In addition, 23,000 refugees (less than 0.3% of Kampuchea’s population), mostly ex-military and upper class persons, have since come to Thailand, where about 12,000 of them remain. They are located in four squalid camps in Prachinburi, Chantaburi, Trat, and Surin provinces. These camps form the recruitment base for the anti-communist resistance groups.
Prachinburi’s Aranyaprathet camp, with more than 4,000 refugees, is the largest. Furthermore, operations run out of the Aranyaprathet area are the most dependant upon Thai territorial sanctuaries. Whereas the other camps are located adjacent to mountainous borders which make it theoretically possible to set up isolated maquis bases within Kampuchea, the Aranyaprathet-Battambang border area is much less favourable to such guerilla adventures.
Since April 1975 the activities of the factionalised and feuding saboteur groups have been at the bottom of numerous border incidents, including those along the followers operating out of Aranyaprathet, began organising for attacks inside Kampuchea. The first major attack, aimed at harassing communications in Battambang province, came in August. The second was an early November 1975 ambush of a Kampuchean army rice convoy just across the border from Ta Phraya district.
An apparently unsuccessful attempt to carry out a similar ambush finally led to a major clash between Thai Border Police and Kampuchean Revolutionary Army elements along the Ta Phray-Battanbang border in December 1975.
The Kampuchean army, pursuing Lon Nolist remnants inside what it considered Kampuchean territory encountered a group of Thai Border Patrol Policemen with whom the rightists had taken shelter. Two weeks of violent exchanges followed. The Prime Minister of the civilian Thai government at the time, Kukrit Pramont, publicity condemned In Tam as the cause of the incidents.
His Foreign Minister, Chatachai Chunhawan, said that so long as In Tam and the Kampuchean refugees were allowed to stay at the border there would be problems between the two countries.
In Tam was forced to leave Thailand at the end of December 1975, but the refugees and his rivals, especially Sok Sam Iet, remained to make more problems. In January 1976 refugee movements in Ta Phraya brought about renewed clashes between Thai and Kampuchean border guards.
By February the Kampucheans were mining disputed border areas in an apparent attempt to cut down on sabotage by refugee-resistance groups operating from the Thai side of the border. By preventing the followers of Sek Sam Iet and others from crossing the Prachinburi-Battambang border, this action may well have contributed to the lull in violent incidents along it which lasted from February 1976 until January 1977.
At the time of the 28 January incident, the rightwing maquisards were still quite active in the Aranyaprathet area. It was reportedly common knowledge in Aranyaprathet that Khmer Serei (with CIA connections) resided in the refugee camps there.
The most inquisitive foreign journalist discovered that a Khmer Serei base with over 300 men was located nearby. A well informed right-wing Thai daily concluded after the 28 January incident that such serious disputes were “caused by Thailand’s involvement in the operations of the small groups of armed forces which are creating disturbances.
In Kampuchea … namely, the armed forces of the…Khmer Serei.. ”. Former civilian Prime Minister similarly concluded in the editorial column of his royalist daily that the Khmer Serei were probably the real cause of the 28 January incident. The foreign reporter was later expelled.
The rightists daily was later permanently closed. Kukkrit’s paper later had publication suspended. Nothing untoward, however, has happened to assistant Border Patrol Police Commander Major General Prawit Wongwiset, who admitted in May 1977 that people residing along the border “are living under menace of explosives and stray bullets from the occasional fighting between the groups of foreign soldiers.”
Thus the circumstantial evidence again lends plausibility to the Kampuchean version of events. Elements hostile to Kampuchean and responsible for sabotage of reconstruction efforts inside its borders were clearly using territory well inside Thailand and with the disputed border zones between Prachinburi Aranyaprethet and Ta Phraya districts and Battambang province as sanctuaries.
The proximity of known refugee-resistance bases to the villages involves suggests that rightist Kampuchean saboteurs may indeed have passed through or even resided in the villages before the 28 January incident. However, the circumstances which immediately precipitated the 28 January incident did not directly involve Kampuchean reactionaries, as will be seen below.
The third major element of the Kampuchean version of events is the change that the good relations established between Kampuchea and Thailand under the tenure of parliamentary democratic governments of Kukrit and Seni Pramot were sabotaged by the military dictatorship that took over after a bloody coup d’etat on 6 October 1976.
This charge has to be evaluated in light of an analysis of Thai politics under the conservative civilian administrations of Kukrit and Seni and in light of the nature of the military group that ousted them. The Kukrit and Seni administrations essentially consisted of a coalition between conservative, royalist, civilian politicians with an opportunistically pro-democracy faction of the Thai armed forces long excluded from political and military power.
This coalition tolerated popular political expressions of various persuasions in hopes of preventing a return to power by the blatantly dictatorial majority faction of the military. This majority military group, itself divided into a number of personalized cliques, maintained operational control of the armed forces and its intelligence agencies. This control was used to “destabilize” the civilian government.
The primary tactics of this destabilization program were the use of terror against proponents of reform and the use of humiliation against government officials.
The terror was designed to prevent the consolidation of popular groups opposed to military dictatorship. The humiliation was designed to demonstrate the inability of the civilian government to run the country. Needless to say, the program worked: with anti-dictatorship groups stunned by a rising wave of assassination, a faction of the dictators moved against the “incompetent” civilian politicians (and their military friends).
The domestic destabilization program had a foreign policy counterpart. The same right-wing organizations created by leading military factions to assassinate reform minded Thais were used to spread anti-Kampuchean propaganda. The military command structure itself demonstrated its inability of the civilian government to run Thailand’s foreign policy by supporting right-wing guerilla violence against Kampuchea (and Laos).
Just as they were trying to destabilize democracy, these military men were trying to destroy the civilian government’s developing rapprochement with Kampuchea. This is clear form the history of Thai-Kampuchean relations from April 1975 to October 1976.
This history is characterized by consistent attempts on the part of the civilian Thai and revolutionary Kampuchean administration to establish improved relations while section to the Thai military supported guerilla actions against Kampuchean that the civilian government was unable to stop. The Kampuchean government apparently was willing to accept the civilians’ weakness as a fact of life, and willing to keep silent for continued good relations with Thailand.
Even after the October 1976 military coup Kampuchea remained silent. It was only after the Kampuchean leadership became convinced that good relations were impossible that Kampuchea’s complaints were made public. Immediately after the collapse of the Lon Nol regime in Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975, the Kukrit government moved to demonstrate its friendly stance toward Kampuchea.
Recognition of the new authorities in Phnom Penh was coupled with a very significant announcement: Thailand would “not allow other nationalities to use armed force to fight (Kampuchea’s) government as they have done in the past”. This position was backed up by the army’s key anti-dictatorship general, Krit Siwara, who pointedly refused to make an issue of the Kampuchean attempts to neutralise Lon Nol remnants crossing into the Thai maritime province of Trat. Meanwhile other Thai government officials winked at the technically illegal trade that immediately began to flourish in the Aranyaprethet border area. It soon became all too clear, however, that the Kukrit government and the minority of generals who supported it would not always enforce their conciliatory policy in the whole of Thailand. In mid-May, during the Mayaguez incident, the United States decided to use Thai military bases to launch military operations against Kampuchea.
In doing so, the United States decided openly defied Prime Minister Kukrit’s prohibition against such use of Thai territory. Afterwards, Kukrit’s government demanded and received an American expression of “regret: for this clear violation of Thai sovereignty. The Thai military, however, did not apologize for allowing the Americans to get away with the violation. The attitude of the pro-dictatorship military circles was revealed more directly when now trouble developed along the border of the Thai maritime province of Trat while the Mayaguez incident was in progress.
Navy Commander Admiral Sangat Chaloryu threatened to use “drastic measures” against Kampuchea should the trouble continue. Only quick action by Interior Ministry officials. General Krit, and the Kampucheans themselves reduced tensions and prevented a major confrontation.
If Admiral Sangat had not been restrained by the civilian government and general Krit, the subsequent rapprochement between Thailand and Kampuchea probably never would have developed. The Kampucheans clearly hoped that the civilian government would prevail over what they considered “the reactionaries within the Thai army”.
At the end of May, after Lon Nol remnants driven from the Preah Vihear temple once occupied by Thailand had fled into Thai territory. Phnom Penh radio announced: “We hope that Thailand will respect our sovereignty and territorial integrity through its acts and will absolutely not allow Kampuchean refugees… Now living in Thailand to carry out political, espionage, and commando activities against Kampuchea”.
By June, however, In Tam was ready to use Thai territory to launch attacks against Kampuchea. Phnom Penh radio made it clear that if the suppression of such attacks were apparently aimed and the disruption of vital food supply line, led to Kampuchean infringement of Thai sovereignty, it was entirely unintentional: “We have never in the past, nor will we in the future, purposely violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any country.., especially neighbouring countries”.
In July the mutual government moves toward improved Thai-Kampuchean relations reached a new level, despite the guerrilla activities. Kampuchea let it be known that it wanted diplomatic ties with Thailand. Messages to this effect were sent through every available channel. The urgency of these messages apparently resulted from a Kampuchean desire to initiate large scale importation of salt and fuel oil to aid in post-war relief in Battambang and other north-western provinces.
A reduction of sabotage activities by resistance groups, however, was undoubtedly also and important objective. The response of the Kukrit government to these overtures was extremely favourable. The Prime Minister himself went on to record in favour of the establishment of friendly relations. His Foreign Minister, Chatchai Chunhawan, publicly declared that until trade agreements could be worked out, border snuggling would not be considered illegal. A senior Interior Ministry official proposed that Kampuchean refugees be expelled from Thailand.
In August as right-wing resistance groups launched attacks in Kampuchean territory adjacent to Prachinbury, intensive Thai-Kampuchean contacts, initiated by Kampuchea and aimed at establishing diplomatic ties, continued at the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border.
In September the contacts moved to the United Nations and the initiative to the Thais. The Thai ambassador to the United Nations issued an invitation to Kampuchean Foreign Ministry Ieng Sary to visit Bangkok. Sary accepted the invitations immediately.
Ieng Sary and a high-ranking Kampuchean delegation arrived in Bangkok on 28 October 1975. Their four-day visit, which included talks with Prime Minister Kukrit and Foreign Minister Chatchai, brought about the normalisation of relations between the two countries. According to a Thai official, “nobody mentioned anything about the Indochina war”. A joint communiqué issued at the close of the meeting promised an exchanged of ambassadors “at a convenient date”. It declared recognition of and mutual respect for “present frontiers”. In addition, “each government solemnly reaffirmed that it would refrain from using its territory on from allowing the use of its territory by any third country, directly or indirectly, in violation of “each others’ “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Finally, “the two governments pledged not to resort to either the threat or the use of force in solving their differences”.
In practice, the Thai-Kampuchean meeting had two results. First, the Thai government promised to prohibit those refugees who did not want to return to Kampuchea from engaging in any kind of political activity. Second, the two governments agreed to the establishment of liaison offices in the border towns of Aranyaprathet and Poipet. These offices would be a temporary substitute for an exchange of ambassadors and would be primarily engaged in handling trade affairs.
In early November, Kampuchean military forces began dismantling defensive fortifications along the border. On 17 November Foreign Ministers Chatchai and Sary met on the border between Aranyaprathat and Poipet; to inaugurate the liaison committee.
Two weeks later it became known in Bangkok that In Tamis guerrillas had attacked a Kampuchean rice convoy across from Ta Phraya district the week before the meeting. Clearly embarrassed, Prime Minister Kukrit announced on 26 November that In Tam would have to leave the country within one week.
However, the Thai National Security Council, which had always been the conduit through which Khmer Serei operations had received funds, simply announced that in Tam need not meet the Prime Minister’s deadline. In Tam remained in his Aranyaprathet base. While In Tam and the National Security Council defied the government, the first shipment of Thai salt purchased by Kampuchea was loaded and readied to be sent across the border. Yet here again the civilian government found it could not enforces its policy of friendship with Kampuchea. At the beginning of December, Prachinburi merchants who claimed that the Kampucheans owed them $90,00 blocked the rail lines and prevented the delivery of the salt.
As one Thai daily put it, the merchants’ action had placed the Thai government “in a ludicrous position”. The Kampuchean government quickly promised to consider the Thai merchants’ demands and the vital salt crossed the border, but Kukrit’s government had only overcome one humiliation to face a worse one from In Tam.
On 12 December in Tam’s partisans brought about the first major exchange of fire between Thai and Kampuchean units along the Prachinburi-Battambang border. As noted above, Prime Minister Kukrit and Foreign Minister Chatchai were quirk to declare that In Tam, and not Kampuchea, was to blame for the incident. Nevertheless, while the liaison committee held emergency negotiations to work out a cease-re and while Foreign Minister Chatchai voiced his objections, the Thai First Army and the Border Patrol Police rushed reinforcements into the clash zone. After a cease-fire was agreed to, Border Patrol units violated it by launching sweeps in the disputed area.
Kampuchean troops offered no immediate resistance. As the Kampuchean representative on the liaison committee explained, Kampuchea had no desire to divert its army from crucial reconstruction tasks to do battle with the numerous and wee-armed Thai forces.
Several days later, however, the Kampucheans fired upon a Border Patrol helicopter supporting the Thai operations. With First Army Commander General Yot Thephasadin and Border Patrol duty Commander General Prawit Wongwiset in the area to direct these operations, there came requests to Bangkok for permission to launch a large scale attack on the Kampucheans. The requests were apparently denied and the fighting ceased. After the coup, there would be no one to deny such requests.
The December border clash finally resulted in the departure of In Tam on 22 December. It also revealed that Thai and Kampuchean authorities had different ideas about the exact location of the Pranchinburi-Battambang border. Both sides first talked of a ‘misunderstanding’ and then declared the area in which the clash had occurred was within their territory. Faced with this situation, Foreign Minister Chatchai suggested the establishment of a joint demarcation committee. To this end he requested a meeting with Ieng Sary. Sary quickly agreed to the meeting. Then, in early January 1976, before a date for the meeting could be set, Chatchai cancelled it. He said that the return to tranquility along the border meant that a meeting was no longer necessary. However, the sporadic firing along the border and the need to achieve some kind of demarcation to prevent any future serious incidents apparently led Ieng Sary to request in early February that the meeting not be cancelled. He suggested a date of 27 February.
The main topic of the talks was to be demarcation of the Prachinburi-Battambang border. The Kampucheans probably also wanted to discuss the purchase of badly needed petroleum products from Thailand. In preparation for the meeting, Thai authorities announced that no more Kampuchean refugees would be allowed to enter Thailand. They further declared that, although Kampuchea had made no such request, Thailand would offer to repatriate all 9,883 Kampuchean refugees then in Thailand.
At the same time orders were issues to crack down on attempted border crossings by resistance groups. This was presumably aimed at preventing any incident that might spoil the atmosphere for the planned meeting. Incidents nevertheless occurred.
On 22 February the Thai military Supreme Command alleged that on 20 February armed Kampuchean fishing boats had attacked Thai fishing boats in international waters and had pursued them into Thai territorial waters. There, the Supreme Command said, the Kampuchean boats had been met by the Royal Thai Navy, which opened fire and drove the Kampucheans back into international waters. The Kampucheans denied that they were responsible for the incident.
They replied that, in fact, armed Thai fishing boats had intruded into Kampuchean waters in order to provide a pretext for intervention by the Thai navy. From the charges and counter charges, it is impossible to determine where the real fault lay.
It can be said, however, that on other occasions Thai officials have readily admitted that Thai fishing boats regularly operated in Kampuchean waters. It can also be said that the possibility of a planned provocation by Admiral Sangat’s navy cannot be ruled out. The civil government refused to make an issue of the ocean clash. Acting Thai Prime Minister Praman Adireksan said the incident would not obstruct the Chatchai-Sary meeting and that there was no need to send any additional forces to areas bordering Kampuchea.
There was, however, apparently some concern on the part of the Kampucheans that it might not be safe to hold the meeting on the planned date and thus that the date should be changed.
The bizarre events of 25 February 1976 may prove that those fears were well-founded. On that day during a surprise military alert in Thailand, the Kampuchean town of Siem Reap about 130 kilometres from the Prachinburi border, was hit by two waves of aerial bombardment. Kampuchean accounts of the bombing were careful not to make any accusation of direct Thai involvement in the incident, which was blamed upon the United States.
However, the Kampucheans did note that the bombers had flown off eastward and northward “in direction of Thailand” and that the bombings followed the defeat of sabotage attempts by rightist guerrillas “whose camps were in Thailand” These guerrillas for their part gleefully claimed responsibility for this spectacular daylight attack that had so clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of Kampuchean territory.
While Prime Minister Kukrit and Foreign Minister Chatchai rejected any implication of Thai complicity in the attack, plans for an early meeting between Chatchai and Ieng sary were apparently dropped. The naval clash had not been enough to obstruct the meeting but the bombing had. If Thai and not American planes carried out the bombing (see fn179) they may have achieved their diplomatic objective. Chatchai remained optimistic and conciliatory, but said only that he ‘might meet sometime’ with the Kampuchean Foreign Minister.
The Kampucheans meanwhile, remained convinced that there was nothing to be gained from dramatizing the fractioning that existed between the two countries. They probably felt that such a course would only strengthen the hand of those elements within Thailand opposed to improving Thai-Kampuchean relations.
The March 1976 decision by the Kukrit government to order the withdrawal of all but 270 United States military personnel from Thailand and the April 1976 elections and formation of a new civilian government headed by Kukrit’s brother Seni set the stage for a fresh series of government to government contacts between Thailand and Kampuchea.
In May, however, it became public knowledge who stood in the way of deepening and widening those contacts. Thai investigative reporters, perhaps aided by leaks from frustrated foreign policy officials in the incoming Seni administration, revealed that the ex-Lon Nolist governor of Battambang province, Sek Sam Iet, was using the Aranyaprathet area as a springboard for operations into Kampuchean territory.
It was reported that Sek Sam Iet’s 1000 man armed guerrilla generals’ in the Thai Supreme Command because of its capabilities in ‘gathering intelligence’ for the Thai government. Finance for these military operations and bribes for Thai officials were being derived from the guerrillas’ illegal lumbering in Kampuchea’s Phnom Malay mountains and from illegal gem mining in Kampuchea’s Pailin region (both south of Aranyaprathet).
The allegations were never denied. Liberal Thai papers reacted to them with editorial fury. One wrote: “Stern action is needed to prevent the Thai government’s word being made a mockery of by the refugees, in collusion with Thai generals, trying to set up guerrilla bases inside Kampuchean territory…How can Thailand possibly conduct a viable foreign policy when it is slandered from our own soil? ”
It even suggested that Sek Sam Iet should be arrested and turned over to Kampuchean authorities. The Seni government’s response to the revelations was an unsuccessful attempt to force Sec Sam Iet out of the country. Meanwhile, with the Kampuchean government remaining discreetly silent about the whole affair, Seni; s Foreign Minister, Pichai Rattakun, began making preparations to meet with Ieng Sary inside Kampuchea. The plans for this meeting were kept secret.
Few besides Seni know the trip was about to take place. The Thai and the Kampuchean governments “mutually agreed” that the secrecy was necessary to maintain security. It seems very likely that both sides feared that the right-wing Kampuchean guerrillas and the “certain Thai generals” who backed them might attempt to sabotage the meeting.
Memories of the mysterious events of the previous February were still quite fresh. Although neither government had proof that the Thai military was involved, their suspicions probably contributed to the decision to keep the meeting secret.
Pichai and Ieng Sary met in Sisophon, a town in Battambang province about 40 kilometres from the Prachiburri border, on 16 and 17 June. The meeting was revealed only after Pichai’s return to Bangkok on 18 June. Conducted in what was described as “a friendly and cordial atmosphere of mutual understanding”, the meeting dealt with four main problems.
The exchange of ambassadors, the demarcation of the Prachinburi-Battambang border, the activities of refugees, and the expansion of trade. The two governments agreed to take “certain measures leading to the establishment of embassies in Bangkok and Phnom Penh”.
They agreed to appoint “technical authorities” and “experts” to a joint committee that would “erect clear border markers” along the Prachinburi-Battambang border, “so that no more problems will arise between the two countries”. Thailand offered to repatriate all 11,306 Kampuchean refugees then in Thailand, but Kampuchea, as usual, showed no real interest in this proposal.
Instead, discussion centred around suppression of the activities of Sek Sam Iet and three other key resistance group leaders . With respect to trade, agreement was reached to “strengthen and expand” contact. Of the four problem areas, ambassadorial exchange and expanded trade moved most quickly and easily toward solution. In mid-August 1976, the Kampuchean embassy building in Bangkok was cleaned up in preparation for the arrival of Kampuchean diplomas
At the end of August, Foreign Minister Phichai officially opened the Aranyaprathet-Poipet order for private trading. The Interior Ministry then closed it again. but Prime Minister Seni stepped in and ordered it reopened.
The problems of border demarcation and refugee activities were, as Pickai himself admitted, much more difficult. As Pichai said, they could only be solved in an atmosphere of good will. In the last months before the military coup, the civilian government admitted that Kampuchean charges of encroachment into Kampuchean territory by Thai peasants from the Khlong Namsai area of Aranyaprathet district were correct.
In September the liaison committee discussed the possibility (first suggested by a liberal Thai newspaper) of forced repatriation of Sek Sam Iet and the other three Kampuchean refugees primarily responsible for sabotage activities inside Kampuchea.
By September 1976, however, the destabilization grogram of the Thai military was being pressed to new heights. Ex-director Field Marshall Thenom Kittikachon returned to Bangkok in defiance of a ban by the Seni government and entered a monastery under army protection.
A similar visit in August by ex-dictator Field Marshall Praphat Charusathien had already prompted Prime Minister Seni to admit that “there are times when the government simply cannot control the military.” In the foreign policy sphere, the army-run Armored Division Radio Station, which would broadcast instructions to plotters during the 6 October coup, stepped up its attacks on Kampuchea, Laos, and Vietnam.
In mid-September Members of the Thai Parliament complained that these broadcasts had “badly shattered the sentiment of those countries’ administrator and people toward Thailand, especially when the government is stepping up its efforts to improve relations with them. Soon, there would be no more such complaining.
On 6 October 1976, the end came to civilian rule with vengeance. Right wing gangs, Bangkok Police riot squads, Border patrol police, and airborne police units stormed the campus of Thamasat University, killing at least 30 students and wounding hundreds more. Many of the students were mutilated and some were doused with gasoline and set aflame. Some of the special airborne police units involved were brought in from a camp that had provided reinforcements for provocative operations along the Prachinburi-Battambang border. Kampuchea had no official public reaction to the 5 October coup. Unlike Laos and Vietnam, it did not condemn the military takeover; rather it took a wait and see attitude. However, there can be little doubt what the Kampucheans expected to see.
The coup had politically emasculated most of the figures who had been friendly and conciliatory, including not only civilians like Kukrit, Seni, and Pichai, but also military men like Generals Chatchai and Praman.
It had silenced most of those who had made complaints about the support of Thai generals for the right-wing saboteurs. Furthermore, some of the key figures in the coup were on record as preferring force to negotiation in dealing with border disputes. Admiral Sangat Chaloryu, who had called for drastic retaliatory measures against Kampuchea in April 1975 when civilian government officials and the late General Krit had called for calm, headed the coup group.
General Yot Thephasadin, who had sent troops to sweep disputed areas along the Prachinburi-Battambang border after the civilian government had negotiated a cease-fire in December 1975, also played an important role in the coup, which confirmed his promotion to assistant army commander. The early actions of the new government can only have increased the Kampucheans’ anxieties. At the beginning of November, the government announced it was going to begin giving areas and military training to peasants in the “self-help resettlements” along the Thai-Kampuchean border.
As the previous government had recently admitted, it was precisely peasants from the Khlong Namsai area who had been intruding into Kampuchean territory for years. With potential intruders being armed and trained, the prospects for a negotiated demarcation of the disputed areas decreased significantly. In the middle of November the Bangkok government pointedly announced that most Kampuchean refugees had welcomed the military takeover, “since they consider the new administration anti-communist.” Soon it was being suggested that refugees might join the Thai army. Meanwhile, those certain generals continued their support for the rightist guerrilla saboteurs.
The Kampucheans can only have concluded that there was now little hope that harassment by the guerrillas would cease and some danger that it would increase. Furthermore, they began to receive reports that the Thai military itself was intruding much more frequently than before the coup into what Kampucheans regarded as Kampuchean territory.
At the end of November, following an inspection tour by post-coup Thai Prime Minister Thanin Kraiwichien, Khmer Serai Guerrillas operating in the rugged Kampuchean mountain areas opposite the Thai maritime province of Trat brought about a major clash between the Kampuchean army and Thai Border Patrol when defeated guerrilla bands attempted to flee into Thailand. One Thai policeman was killed before a cease-fire could be arranged.
In the wake of this incident Kampuchean representatives on the liaison committee apparently returned to Phnom Penh for consultations. The new situation produced by the military takeover in Thailand presumably necessitated talks between the liaison committee representatives and Kampuchea’s foreign policy makers. During this period of policy reassessment, Thai-Kampuchean relations were handled through contacts between the two countries’ ambassadors in Peking.
Preliminary steps were taken toward the initiation of negotiations to ease the tensions in Trat, which were complicated by territorial claims and counter-claims reminiscent of those concerning the Prachinburi-Battambang border. These diplomatic steps, however, were clearly taken in an atmosphere of less than mutual trust and good will than had been characteristic when Thailand was under civilian administration.
In December, the atmosphere deteriorated even more. Thailand stepped up patrols by Border Police, and Kampuchean units began setting up defensive fortifications along the border. The Kampuchean fortifications prompted the Thais to send additional forced to the border area. Thai helicopters drew Kampuchean fire.
Tension mounted further after the Kampuchean army launched highly successful operations against rightist guerrillas in the Phnom Malay Mountains south of Aranyaprathet. Battles with the fleeting guerrillas who received continued support from the Thai military, apparently triggered a number of January 1977 incidents along the Trat-Kampuchean border in which the Thais used air support for the first time.
Much of the increased tensions were focused on Ban Noi Parai and the surrounding areas. At some point, Thailand had established a Border Patrol police base near this recently expanded village. These border Patrol forces augmented Ban Noi Parai’s armed village volunteers. On 3 December 1976, Kampuchean forces began digging a 500 meter trench facing the village. Late in the month, the Kampucheans planted a small number of land mines along the border. The Thai reacted to this by sending more Border Police into the area.
On 23 and 30 December 1976 the Thai-Kampuchean liaison committee discussed the Ban Noi Parai problem. The Thai side charged Kampuchean incursions. The Kampuchean side replied that the territory in question was part of Kampuchea and declared that Kampuchea’s activities in the area were purely defensive.
It requested that the Thai government withdraw its nationals from the disputed zone, the kind of proposal that Thai officials during the civilian era had looked upon favorably. The discussion then turned to border demarcation and the activities of saboteur groups. The meetings ended without agreement. Kampuchea’s stance seemed to be that the problem of Thai support for saboteurs should take precedence over all others.
With negotiations thus deadlocked, the military confrontation along the length of the Thai-Kampuchean border worsened. In late January, after incidents along the mountainous Trat-Kampuchean frontier, a Thai Border Patrol Police commander called for a campaign to roll back the Kampuchean “aggressors”: “We can’t be patient any longer. We must do something to drive them out.” Thai forces along the border, and perhaps Kampuchean forces as well, were spoiling for a fight.
On the evening of 28 January 1977, Kampuchean troops in the Ban Noi Parai area made, as usual, no secret of their presence. They talked with local villagers, merchants, and even Kampuchean refugees, some of whom were quite friendly to them. These villagers, merchants, and refugees engaged in a lively, if technically illegal, trade with the Kampucheans.
Later, three of their number would be executed without trial (and thus without any opportunity to tell their version of the violent events of the coming night) by the military regime. Four others would receive prison terms ranging from 20 years to life. They would be accused not only of smuggling, but also of having played a leading role in the fighting and killing of their fellow villagers.
After night fell on 28 January, Border Patrol Police units were sent out from their base near Ban Noi parai on what were later called “normal patrol activities”. At 10.00pm they “encountered an unknown number of Kampuchean soldiers”, triggering a heated exchange of fire.
The Thais immediately radioed for and received reinforcements. A Kampuchean counterattack apparently drove the Thai force back to an abandoned village some distance from Ban Noi Parai. There the Thai called for more reinforcements, including armor and air support. Before the second wave of reinforcements could arrive, the Kampuchean counterattack involved the adjacent villages of Ben Nong Do and Ben Khong Kho.
There the Kampuchean encountered fierce resistance from the well-armed Thai villagers. Many villages women as well as men had guns. Meanwhile an armoured car and a propeller-driven gunship arrived. The gunship raked the area with heavy machine gun and automatic weapons fire. for a half hour and then, after returning to its base, came back to strafe some more. The apparently drove the Kampucheans away from the three villages, when the fighting was all over, at least one Kampuchean, but probably many more, and thirty Thais, including one Border Policeman, even women, and eleven children were dead. It is likely that many of the Thai were killed by fire from the gunship and it is possible that some of them were indeed killed by the local people who were executed or imprisoned by the military government in June 1977.
It was apparently not until thirty hours after the fighting ended that foreign reporters arrived in the Ban Noi Parai area, accompanied by heavily armed Thai military personnel. This put them on the scene the morning of 30 January. The Thai police, however, had originally arrived on the scene the evening of 29 January, giving them the opportunity to rearranged the scene to their satisfaction. It is clear, for example, tha they removed guns from the hands of the villagers killed in the fighting. Thus although the police discovered “the bodies of many women still with guns in their hands,” the journalists saw only unarmed civilians.
For the most parts the journalists accepted uncritically the official Thai interpretation of the gruesome scene they saw before them: that the territory was Thai because the villagers were Thai; that the Kampuchean troops were engaged in an unprovoked attack, and not a counterattack, because the area was Thai; that the villagers were unarmed innocents because they were technically civilians; that all the gaping wounds they saw had been caused by a “Khmer Rouge murder squad” and not airborne Thai machineguns and automatic small arms; that the local residents had angered Kampuchean authorities by failing to deliver supplies and not Thai authorities by supplying the Kampucheans “too well” (as that the scene was exactly as the Kampucheans had left it and had not been tampered with by the Thai police; etc. . The reports of these journalists, especially to use Sihanouk’s phrase, the :Anglo-Americans,” resulted in a propaganda coup for Thailand.
The immediate Kampuchean response to the 28 January incident was confusion. Kampuchean officials in the liaison committee offices directly across the border from Aranyaprathet town apparently had little idea what had happened and had no prepared response to Thai protests against the Kampuchean “invasion.” At first they denied that Kampuchean troops were in any way involved in the incident and refused to accept a Thai protest note. Even after the protest note was accepted, a week-long investigation was required before a full reply was completed. Certainly, if the incident had been a provocation long planned by the Kampucheans, there would not have been such a delay before their response.
The full Kampuchean response, which was released to the public in Peking on 15 February 1977 after it had been in Thai hands for several days, was widely, and incorrectly , interpreted in the Anlgo-American press as an admission that Kampuchea had massacred innocent Thai civilians. In fact, as even the Thai government saw immediately, the note made no such admission: “The Kampuchean government…answered (our) protest note by completely denying any knowledge of ..atrocities against the Thai people…” The Kampuchean note rather took the legalistic position that the area of the armed clash was in Kampuchean territory and thus that what happened there was strictly and only Kampuchea’s business. Given the existence of a Kampuchean claim tot he territory involved, no other position was possible of Kampuchea was to not undermine that claim. The Kampuchean note did however admit that a serious clash had taken place on its territory in which Kampuchean civilians and military personnel had been killed by armed Thai villagers and the regular Thai armed forces. For these deaths, it said, Thailand had to accept responsibility.
The 28 January 1977 incident resulted in a de factor rupture of relations between Thailand and Kampuchea. On 29 January Thailand closed the border between the two countries, cutting the flow of badly needed reconstruction materials. An embargo was subsequently placed on exportation to Kampuchea of fuel, medicine, ironware, and clothing, all of which were declared “possible war material”. This implied that violation of the embargo might be punished by death.
Thailand also moved to militarize the border. Expanding on the November 1976 programs of arming the self-help “settlers” in frontier area, the government declared that all villagers in the disputed zones would be further populated with armed war veterans and reservist, who would be backed by stepped-up Border Police patrolling. Ordinarily villagers already in the area would also receive special training and be amply supplied with weapons. In the following months this program of transferring villages in the area along the border, including areas claimed by Kampuchea., into “strategic hamlets” was given high priority. It was repeatedly emphasized that if Kampuchea interfered with this process, the regular Thai military would engage in “dramatic retaliatory measures” of the “most violent manner”.
Kampuchea, for its part, allowed liaison committee functions to lapse. It answered Thai calls for border demarcation with calls for strict implementation of that section of the October 1975 Chatechai Chunhawan-Ieng Sary communique prohibiting he use of Thai territory by right wing saboteur groups. The Thai military, however, maintained its support for these groups. Some Thai civilians even suggested that their activities be increased.
IOn this climate, further armed clashes were inevitable. It was also inevitable that these clashes would involve not only Thai military forces, but also armed civilian villages along the border. In early February 1977 the first of a new series frontier incidents occurred when Kampuchean troops battling Khmer Serie guerrillas clashed with Thai villagers. Soon afterward, Deputy Army Commander Yot Thephasadin authorized all levels of the Thai army to go into battle against Kampuchean forces without orders from their headquarters. The restraints of the civilians era were removed. This guaranteed that future conflicts would quickly escalate to involve more and more Thai forces. At the end of February artillery duels and air strikes commenced along the border. In March Kampuchean forces attacked Thai units “patrolling” in the vicinity of Ban Noi Oarai, which had been abandoned since the 28 January incident. Thai military officials then announced that operations to roll back Kampuchean forces would result in more frequent clashes. Throughout April clashes occurred all along the Thai Kampuchean border.
AT the end of April, Thailand crack down on smuggling across the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border, further reducing the flow of needed supplies, especially medicines, into north-west Kampuchea. In early May, after clashes involving villagers from the Khong Namsai settlement area, the Thai Supreme Commander began re-organizing Thai forces along the frontier in order to better co-ordinate operations against Kampuchean forces. While the reorganisation was proceeding the Thai army, with armour, air and artillery support, carried out a large-scale surprise attack against .Kampuchean forces entrenched in the Ban Noi Parai area. After a short engagement, this operation was rather unconvincingly declared a success. Forward Border Patrol Police units were then placed under Thai army command and Thai army officials predicted that clashes would grow even more violent. Their predictions have been true.
On 9 July 1977 a Thai patrol “stumbled across” some Kampucheans troops along the Prachinburi-Battambang border. A now streamlines Thai command structure rushed reinforcements, including armour, heavy artillery, and air support, to the scene, forcing a Kampuchean withdrawal. On 20 July the incident repented itself near Ban Noi Parai on a much enlarged scale, except this time Thai forces were forced to withdraw with almost seventy casualties. Thai military leaders responded with a threat to invade Kampuchea. In the wake of the 20 July clash Interior Minister Samak, who had previously said that there was nothing to mark the border in the Ban Noi Parai area, suddenly discovered that a canal (presumably the Namsai canal), which he admitted had dried up and could not be located, was the border. This new claim was duly passed on by foreign journalist. Samak followed up his discovery by suggesting that Thailand unilaterally erect a physical barrier along what Thailand considers the boundary line. This suggestion has been rejected as impractical, but there is still talk of creating a “no man’s corridor where there are no trees and no bushes” instead.
In the meantime, the program of militarizing the border by arming and giving military training to Thai border villagers has been expanded. The presence of armed villagers along the border guarantees that border clashes will involve large numbers of civilians. On 2 August 1977, a new incident occurred along the Ta Phraya-Battambang border that seems to demonstrate this fact. Many of the civilians killed in this clash seem to have been village defence volunteers or persons living with them. Other seem to have been the dependents of Border Patrol Police men living in the two “strategic hamlets” involved.
Thew situation along the Thai-Kampuchean border remain tense. Officials of the Thai military government despite occasional seemingly conciliatory remarks, refused to reorganize that a legitimate territorial dispute exists. They apparently claim to have lost or thrown out the original Thai-French maps of the border area. The Kampuchean government refuses to respond to Thai protests until Thai support for Kampuchean saboteur groups ceases. Thailand continues to arm villagers and strengthen its regular military forces along the border. Kampucheans reportedly sent more troops to the frontier. In this atmosphere further armed clashes can be expected and they may well become increasingly serious. The best hope for a solution to the border problem would appear to lie in a restoration of civilian rule in Bangkok.
Only then would it be possible to regain the momentum toward solution which existed before the military coup. Despite factional infighting among the military cliques in Bangkok, however, a return to civilian administration, and then an end to the border fighting, seems along way off.