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Villagers prepare to bunker down

As rumours abound,families check evacuation readiness

Authorities have cautioned the public to stay away from the border with Cambodia in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district in case fighting should break out.

Villagers have been advised to stay at home, to make merit at their temples, to check their underground shelters and to have belongings packed should they need to evacuate.

The warning follows Cambodian PM Hun Sen's ultimatum for Thai troops to back off by noon yesterday from the area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple and other disputed spots along the border. Thai troops have been on alert while village headŽmen have prohibited villagers from going near the disputed area for safety reasons.

A 63yearold resident, Kong Pongon said after hearing the warnings, he and his neighbours decided that if fighting erupted they were ready for battle like they had been against the communists in 19761977. "Thai people are ready to create peace along the border," he said. Women and children have practised taking shelter in the bunkers.

At the Thai army base near Phu Laor Fall, artillery is said to be in readiness, while locals have gathered to discuss fighting alongside Thai soldiers as they did in 1977. Women, children and the elderly are ready for evacuation.

Heavily armed Cambodian soldiers have been reported on the border about 20 kilometres near the Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temple ruins in Surin's Phanom Dongrak district.

An Army Area 2 source insisted the border areas patrolled by Thai troops were on Thai soil and the military had been there for 30 years without a problem. The atmosphere at the market near Chong JomOrsamet Pass in Kap Choeng district was said to be normal.

In Sa Kaew, rumours that Cambodia might close the border to Thailand prompted many Cambodians to buy water, dried food and other goods at Thailand's Rong Kleu market. At 11am yesterday, Cambodian officials ordered 3,000 Cambodian vendors and customers at the market to pack up and prepare to return to Cambodia should fighting break out.

An army source said soldiers with heavy weapons and tanks had been seen arriving at the Cambodian army base in Ban Nimit in Srisopon, 16 kiloŽmetres from Sa Kaew's Aranyaprathet district.

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