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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia, Laos draw back troops in bid to avoid escalation at border

Cambodian soldiers inspect the Cambodia-Laos border during a meeting over recent tensions between the two sides in Stung Treng province yesterday. Photo supplied
Cambodian soldiers inspect the Cambodia-Laos border during a meeting over recent tensions between the two sides in Stung Treng province yesterday. Photo supplied

Cambodia, Laos draw back troops in bid to avoid escalation at border

After a two-hour meeting, Cambodian and Lao provincial military and border officials yesterday reached an agreement to draw back forces from two undemarcated zones where the building of outposts had recently sparked military stand-offs, according to a general in the area.

Svay Nhan, the Stung Treng provincial military commander, said the “understanding” was reached yesterday after a joint delegation from the countries inspected the sites in Thala Barivat district’s O’Svay commune and nearby Samaki commune in Stung Treng district.

The sites, known as Dong Kralor Chas in Samaki and Deum Lvea in O’Svay, are among three undemarcated “white zones” that have sparked border frictions recently, with Laos’s attempts to upgrade a military outpost in the former and plans by Cambodian police to do the same in the latter provoking stand-offs between forces.

A third similar site in Stung Treng’s Siem Pang district – where in February some 400 Lao soldiers crossed into Cambodia to halt construction of a road they said was in an undemarcated zone – was not included in yesterday’s meeting.

“The Cambodian side requested the Lao side to keep the situation along the border as it was before March 25,” Nhan said, referring to the recent flare-up, which led to Laos temporarily shutting a border crossing earlier this week.

“Secondly, we discussed requests to move forces back in Dong Kralor Chas and Deum Lvea, requests to suspend the construction of posts in [both areas] and to allow the two provincial governors to meet with each other after Khmer New Year.”

Nhan specified that Laos wanted Cambodian border police in Deum Lvea to withdraw 30 metres while Cambodia sought assurances the border would stay open for local traders. He said forces from both sides would draw back as of yesterday afternoon.

Reached later in the day, a Cambodian border police officer, who requested anonymity, said at Deum Lvea, forces from both sides, including about 10 Lao soldiers and the same amount of Cambodian border police, had drawn back about 50 metres. But at Dong Kralor Chas, Lao troops remained at the contentious outpost, he said.

Laos and Cambodia have demarcated just over 80 percent of their 535-kilometre border since the early 2000s.

Analysts questioned why national leaders had continued to let the dispute fester.

“The tit-for-tat is snowballing quickly and could spark a violent confrontation, especially given that Cambodia’s parliamentary opposition might publicly ask why the government is not standing up to Laos,” said regional expert Paul Chambers, of Thailand’s Naresuan University.

Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said he found it “absurd” that the dispute hasn’t been snuffed out by decisive diplomacy by both countries, calling the conflict “unbecoming of ASEAN members”.

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