The battle between Burmese and Cambodian labourers working for main contractor Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction Co Ltd, led to a fire in worker accommodation that destroyed seven rooms.
Troops are now patrolling the area and the company has been ordered to organise new accommodation with the 400-500 Cambodian and 370 Burmese workers housed well away from one another.
A person living nearby told The Phuket News that there are around 2,000 workers in the camp, including some 1,000 Thais, who apparently were not involved in the fighting.
He added that many of the Burmese are teenagers and get drunk often, while the Cambodians live more as family units.
There had already been a fight on Tuesday (December 30), with some minor injuries, but not on the scale of the New Year’s Day battle, an alcohol-fueled riot that lasted for two hours before police and troops were able to stop it.
The cause of the fighting is not clear, but each side has apparently harboured a simmering resentment of the other for a long time.
Casualties were surprisingly light, with the only significant injury being to a Cambodian worker who was hit in the eye with a stone from a slingshot.
The battle came to a swift end with combatants fleeing in all directions when 15 police and 10 army troops, all armed, entered the area.
Several men, believed to have been at the centre of the fighting, were arrested and another 60 – 30 from each side – were rounded up and initially slated for deportation.
Later, however, it was decided that the company could do what it wanted with the 60, so long as they were not sent back into the Phuket Airport work camp. They will be scattered instead around other Sino-Thai sites in Thailand.
Pol Col Somchai Sanprasert, Superintendent of Tha Chat Chai Police, noted that 120 Burmese have already been moved to alternative accommodation in Muang Mai, while another 250 or so remain in the same place as before, but now separated from the Cambodians by a new fence and gate.
But some of the Cambodian workers were today still scared to go back into their accommodation, preferring instead to camp in nearby rubber plantations.
Troops are still in the area, carrying out armed patrols to keep the peace.
Sino-Thai has suffered from labour shortages on the B5.1-billion project which started in October 2012 and is scheduled to be finished in May this year, failing which it faces penalties to late completion.