Minister of National Defence Tea Banh dismissed media reports on Sunday of a tense border confrontation between Cambodian and Lao troops, putting the incident down to a “misunderstanding” as the area had yet to be fully demarcated.
Some local media outlets published reports of a renewed confrontation between Cambodian and Lao troops at the Tonle Pov river in the Mom Bei area of Preah Vihear province, saying Cambodia had increased its troop presence and was ready to move the residents of four villages in two communes in Chom Ksan district in case of an exchange of fire.
However, Banh rejected reports that the situation at the Cambodia-Laos border was tense.
“There has been no confrontation as published [by some media outlets], and after the prime ministers of the two countries spoke, the situation will return to normal very soon.
“There were some words exchanged [between troops], but the two leaders spoke and found a solution so there is no problem,” Banh told The Post.
The part of the Cambodia-Laos border in question has yet to have border markers installed, so unaware Cambodians had planted crops, which Lao troops removed, he said.
The Cambodians then reported this to the Cambodian soldiers, which led to a misunderstanding.
“There was a bit of a misunderstanding, but the situation is not serious and will return to normal soon. Unlike what has been published by some local media outlets, there is no problem.
We are in talks to get the situation back to normal,” Banh said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to people to not worry about the situation at the border, saying Cambodian and Lao troops had withdrawn after he had spoken directly with his Lao counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith.
“At 9am on Saturday morning I spoke directly on the phone with Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and we had a positive conversation. We both agreed to withdraw troops from the Mom Bei area that has not yet been fully demarcated.
“We also agreed to continue negotiations with each other, so the situation is not tense. Our two countries’ soldiers have eaten meals together, so please all citizens, don’t worry,” Hun Sen told Fresh News.
Political analyst Meas Nee said differing reports made it difficult to assess the situation at the border.
Some media outlets had said local authorities were ready to move the residents of the four villages in Choam Ksan district in case shots were exchanged, while senior government officials were saying there was no confrontation.
“If we look at information from local officials, it seems tense, while the Ministry of National Defence and the prime minister said the situation is not serious. With differing accounts, it is difficult to assess the situation,” Nee said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the situation at the border had calmed after dialogue between the prime ministers.
He said Cambodia’s policy was to live peacefully.
“This issue is calm now after talks because Cambodia does not wish to cause problems with any country, regardless of whether strong or weak, as we want to live in peace with our neighbours.
“We are still developing the nation and have no intention of having conflicts with any country or grabbing territory,” Phea said.
The Cambodia-Laos border issue has been ongoing since August 2017, when Laos sent troops into a disputed area in Stung Treng province, demanding a halt to a road being constructed by Cambodian military engineers. This led to a tense standoff.
According to border officials, Cambodia and Laos share a 540km border and need to install 145 demarcation posts. So far both sides have installed 121 posts, with 24 in Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces still outstanding.
Late last year, Hun Sen and Thongloun called on the French government to supply maps and other related documents to settle the dispute.
Cambodia and Laos were part of French Indochine until gaining independence in 1954. French maps have been used to help settle a border dispute with Vietnam.