Truce Begins In Disputed Border Area After Last-Minute Fighting
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Thai and Laotian forces today began a truce in a disputed border area, and leaders separated troops who had fought bloody battles for 3 1/2 months, Thai officers said.
After the cease-fire began at 8 a.m., two parallel rows of Thai and Laotian flags were put up to mark off a two-mile zone which soldiers are forbidden to cross, said the army chief of staff, Gen. Charuay Wongsayant.
Thai and Laotian military officials agreed to the cease-fire on Wednesday, after two days of talks in Bangkok. They decided to separate their soldiers within 48 hours of the start of the truce.
Hundreds of soldiers have died since fighting flared last November for sparsely populated hills between Thailand’s northern province of Phitsanulok and Laos’ Sayaboury province. Each side claims that the area about 240 miles north of Bangkok is in its territory.
Col. Rithee Rungkaputi, chief of the Third Army Region’s civilian affairs department, said there was a half-hour long skirmish in one of the contested hills an hour before the truce began. He said there were no casualties.
He said the clash probably was due to a delay in communicating the cease- fire order to field troops.
He also reported a heavy artillery exchange and two ground clashes on Wednesday and Thursday, when Thai and Laotian military teams were meeting in Bangkok to work out the truce.
Thai Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila told reporters today that foreign ministry officials have been dispatched to Paris to seek the French government’s assistance in resolving the conflicting claims. The Thais say a 1907 French-Thai treaty shows the disputed area is inside Thailand.
Meanhile, the official Laotian news agency KPL today quoted Maj. Gen. Thonglay Kommasith, deputy head of the general political department of the Laotian army, as saying the talks in Bangkok had ″paved the way towards negotiations, a diplomatic channel to solve the Lao-Thai border problem.″
Thonglay, who participated in the talks, spoke at a news conference in Vientiane Thursday, said the dispatch monitored in Bangkok.
The agreement calls for the two governments to hold talks within 15 days of the start of the truce to decide the location of the border.
Gen. Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth, the Thai army commander, said he would be going to Laos’ capital of Vientiane within two days at the invitation of Gen. Sisavat Keobounphan, the chief of the Laotian army general staff and Chaovalit’s counterpart at Wednesday’s talks.