Thailand, Cambodia Spat Gets Ugly


PRASAT, THAILAND — It was a typical night for Wanchai Jongkot and his family. After working all day in the paddy fields, he sat down with his wife and two daughters to eat dinner – the main meal in his household. Before he could take his first bite, flashes illuminated the night sky, followed by deafening explosions.

‘We had no idea what was going on, we just ran to take cover,’ says Jongkot, a wiry man in his late 50s. ‘We were so shocked we almost fainted.’

In the midst of the bombardment the eldest daughter saw her sister rolling in agony and yelled out that she had been hit. When the fighting had subsided, they took the injured daughter to the local hospital where they discovered she had a broken arm and hip.

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Jongkot and his family are some of around 80,000 civilians who have been affected on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border by recent clashes between the two nations.

The latest conflict is the most serious fighting in decades and stems from a demarcation carried out in the 1950s by an international court, which awarded Cambodia the land. Thailand continues to disputes this ruling.

The effects of the fighting can been seen all over Gaab Cherng district in Surin Province. As fighting has escalated over the last seven days, both sides have been firing heavy artillery into each other’s territory, littering empty shells indiscriminately into civilian areas.

Wedged in a plank of wood at the back of the Jongkot’s house lies the stray BM21 rocket that has destroyed their home. Pieces of timber lie smashed amidst shared ceramic tiles. The only thing that remains intact is a picture of the revered King.

Lying in a hospital bed at Prasat local hospital, the 15-year-old daughter, Jeeranan, grimaces in pain. Accompanied by a teddy bear, and hair tied up in ponytails, she looks younger than she is. ‘The doctor says her bone is completely smashed,’ her mother says looking over at her, clearly distressed by the news. ‘We don’t want to go back to our village while bombs are flying over like this.’

The same sentiment is echoed throughout the more than 20 temporary camps along the border, populated by refugees evacuated from their homes. Sleeping on straw mats in crowded conditions and surviving on donations it’s not clear how much longer they can tolerate the fighting.

‘We’ve been okay so far,’ says an elderly lady as she finishes her food. ‘But I miss my home and worried for my property. We all hope it ends soon.’

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