A recent escalation in military tension between Cambodia and Laos over the construction of a border-crossing post cooled on Wednesday, with the two sides agreeing to a plan that includes the retreat of soldiers until after the Khmer New Year, officials said.
On Sunday, about 20 Laotian soldiers sought to block the construction of a small wooden border post inside a disputed tract of land in Stung Treng province, where both countries had previously agreed not to erect any new buildings until a joint border committee demarcated the area.
Over the following two days, an additional 10 to 20 Laotian soldiers were stationed at the border, said Svay Nhorn, Stung Treng provincial military commander.
However, the military buildup died down on Wednesday after Brigadier General Nhorn agreed to a three-point plan in a morning meeting with the military commander of Laos’ Champasak province, he said.
“They agreed to move their soldiers. There will be no border closure and the building of the border post will need to wait for both provincial governors to hold a meeting after the Khmer New Year,” Brig. Gen. Nhorn said.
“We will have a [further] meeting because the Laotian side ordered more soldiers over there,” he added. “We are afraid anything could happen.”
The disputed land is in woodland about 7 km from Laos’ Trapaing Kriel International Checkpoint.
The construction of a Laotian military base in the same area last year sparked protests from the Cambodian side. Laotian authorities warned of violence if they were stopped from erecting the post, resulting in Cambodian soldiers being deployed to the area. Some have said the latest dispute is payback for efforts to stop the construction last year.
Despite Brig. Gen. Nhorn refuting reports in local media that the checkpoint had been temporarily closed on Sunday, provincial spokesman Men Kung confirmed it had been shuttered as a result of the dispute.
“The Laotian side just closed Trapaing Kriel checkpoint without informing the Cambodian side of any reason,” he said.
He claimed that Laotian soldiers were also still transporting equipment into the area to build the military base that caused conflict last year, and that the Cambodian side could still go ahead with their plans to build the border post.
“We are ready to build our Cambodian post if they continue to build their post,” he said.
The escalation is the latest in a long line of border disputes between the two countries. In February, more than 400 armed Laotian soldiers poured into Cambodian territory to stop construction on a 257-km road in Stung Treng province running from Stung Treng City to Siem Pang district.
odom@cambodiadaily.com
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