Prime Minister Hun Sen today gave Laos six days to withdraw troops from a border area in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district, where the construction of a road by Cambodian military engineers has led to tense stand-offs since February.
Speaking at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, the premier said he had placed the military on alert, saying it was “unacceptable” that Laotian troops had been sent across the Sekong River into Cambodia.
“Since April, our Laotian friends have sent forces into Cambodia’s territory in the O’alay area of Stung Treng province for the purpose of preventing us from building the road we want to build on our own land,” Hun Sen said, referring to an area in Santepheap commune.
“In the past day I have written a letter to the Lao prime minister [Thongloun Sisoulith] to request him to remove the force… There is no response yet.
“[Laos must] remove troops from Cambodia without conditions… the ultimatum is that August 17 is the deadline. I give you six days, if you do not want a problem, you remove the force.”
Conflict over the road, which, when finished, will skirt Cambodia’s northern border and join with another section being built in Ratanakkiri province, flared up in February, when hundreds of Laotian soldiers crossed the Sekong and demanded work stop, claiming the road ran through a yet-to-be demarcated area.
Cambodian military engineers building the road initially suspended work in response, though construction continued quietly in April.
Since then, Hun Sen said about 30 Laotian soldiers had been deployed across the Sekong, which marks the natural boundary between the two countries in that area.
The premier said he had spoken with the Laotian prime minister in May and told him to remove the soldiers.
“I told him clearly that we can tolerate each other but the lower level officials, they cannot tolerate each other and we need to be careful of causing a problem,” he said, adding that, subsequently, officials from the countries’ border committees were dispatched to inspect the site.
Frustrated at being “ignored” by Laos, Hun Sen said he had ordered Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to meet with officials at the country’s embassy in Phnom Penh and instructed Stung Treng Governor Mam Saroeun to meet with his counterpart from Laos’ Attapeu province, which borders Cambodia.
He also said he had ordered Defence Minister Tea Banh, military Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim to prepare, adding that troops from the Preah Vihear-based Intervention Division 2 would be sent to the area, as well as soldiers from Brigade 21.
“If brothers and sisters see the troop mobilisation, please do not be shocked. Their destination is Stung Treng,” he said.
“We cannot allow anyone to step on Cambodian territory…a friend is a friend, but when a friend steps on our heads, it cannot be.
“Pol Sareoun, Tea Banh and Kun Kim have received the order, and if there is an unusual situation that takes place, please do not blame Cambodia.”
The premier added that he wanted to meet with his counterpart before “taking measures”, and also suggested obliquely that there may be someone “behind” Laos’ incursion.
“If there is, will we smash to break the one behind it,” he said.
“We do not announce war but we just want to take our land.”