In one of the bloodiest incidents on the Thai-Cambodian border in months, at least 38 people were killed and 42 were wounded Wednesday when traders were attacked as they crossed from Cambodia into Thailand.
At nightfall, according to reports from the area, dozens of wounded still lay in heavy brush along the border, out of reach of rescue teams of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Thailand.
The attack took place near Ta Phraya, a Thai village about 30 miles northeast of the border town of Aranyaprathet. Ta Phraya is a marketplace for refugee camps in the area.
Seven of the people killed were said by local officials to be soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communist faction that was driven out of government a decade ago by the Vietnamese.
The other 31 people killed were said to be civilian traders who were moving on foot with herds of water buffalo along a three-mile trail through the unmarked no man’s land along the border. The Khmer Rouge soldiers were reportedly escorting the traders.
Walked Into Mine Field
The traders are believed to have walked into a mine field, then reportedly were fired on by troops of the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government after the mines exploded.
“We have truckloads of wounded, and we haven’t seen the end yet,” Urs Boegli, head of the International Red Cross in Thailand, told reporters.
Red Cross ambulances, which are not permitted to leave so-called safe zones in Thailand, were taking the wounded to a hospital at the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp.
Although the Cambodian army is officially at war with three guerrilla factions based in Thailand, a large volume of unofficial trade has been carried on across the border and is tolerated by all sides.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former Cambodian leader who nominally heads the guerrilla alliance, is scheduled to meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen next week in Indonesia for a third round of talks aimed at reaching a political settlement in Cambodia. Vietnam has announced that it will withdraw its troops by the end of September.
In another incident Wednesday, Vietnamese troops fired four artillery shells into Site 2, the largest of the Cambodian refugee camps with a population of more than 175,000. Three people were said to have been severely wounded.
After the shelling, the camp was reportedly closed to Western aid officials, including members of the U.N. Border Relief Organization, which provides funds for the camp.
Many of the residents of Site 2 are aligned with forces loyal to the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, the primary non-Communist guerrilla group.
One official speculated that the Vietnamese may be trying to intimidate the liberation front at a time when the U.S. government is reportedly thinking of supplying the group with weapons.
Vice President Dan Quayle is scheduled to visit the camp next week as part of his tour of Australia and Southeast Asia.