Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Border tensions brewing

Border tensions brewing

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
THE BANGKOK POST

Border tensions brewing

Tensions are brewing once again on the Cambodia-Thailand border as controversial construction work has led the neighbouring country to bolster its forces, raising fears of renewed clashes in 2015, military and government officials said yesterday.

Un Chinda, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said road work close to the border, in an area claimed by Cambodia but which Thailand says had previously been agreed on as neutral territory, sparked the dispute.

Chinda said he received an “informal letter from the Thai side” earlier this week “requesting that we postpone the road construction … and refill land” already excavated.

“We agreed with Thailand’s request to postpone the road construction, but we have not agreed to refill the land for the road as the construction will be ongoing because it is under the sovereignty of Cambodia,” he said. “The road construction is far … from the An Ses border, where the barbed wire between the two countries was placed.”

Chinda said that about 200 Thai soldiers have been deployed to the area, but denied reports that Cambodia had bolstered its own forces.

“We have not brought in any reinforcements, but the current military base along the border is ready to protect [the area] if Thai soldiers continue to move into our territory,” he said.

Chinda also denied reports of current plans to build a casino and hotel in the area, claiming that the construction was limited to a new road, which is being built next to an existing statue.

“We have never cared about construction in Thai territory, but when we build something in our territory, Thailand always requests we stop, reinforces troops and closes the border,” he said, explaining that the An Ses, or Chong Arn Mar, border pass had been shut since early this week.

Chinda added that Hun Manet, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son and a lieutenant-general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, has been in the area since Tuesday monitoring the situation.

A military official in Preah Vihear, who asked not to be named, said high-ranking military officials from Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to meet on January 7.

But despite claims that the situation is under control, Sok Phal, a deputy commander in RCAF who was in Preah Vihear this week, told the Post that the standoff had already turned violent.

According to Phal, earlier this week, Thai soldiers attempted to enter the disputed territory and opened fire, leading Cambodian troops to shoot back in “self-defence”.

“Cambodians shot back and they [the Thai soldiers] were shot. They didn’t die; they were shot in the legs. But now there is not much information because they closed the area,” he said, adding that a “special envoy” had been sent to the border to investigate the clash.

Other Cambodian officials denied yesterday that any shooting had occurred, while Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached.

Phal added that he feared renewed clashes. “They [Cambodia] are sending more troops to the mountains. Maybe in the new year they are fighting again if Thailand does not respect [Cambodia’s] sovereignty.”

Vannarith Chheang, a lecturer in Asia-Pacific studies at the University of Leeds in England and a senior fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, agreed that fighting could be on the horizon.

“The border tension between Cambodia and Thailand can possibly relapse into an armed conflict if there is no strong and effective mechanism to build trust and confidence between the two leaders of both countries,” he said by email.

He added that Thailand’s failure to implement the International Court of Justice’s ruling last year that part of the hotly contested vicinity around Preah Vihear Temple largely belongs to Cambodia “poses a serious threat”.

Fatal clashes along the border prompted Cambodia to ask the ICJ for a new ruling on land around the temple in 2011.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon

  • Migrant workers set to return from Malaysia

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed on Thursday that 158 Cambodian students and migrant workers will fly home from Malaysia on Friday morning. This is the second flight to bring Cambodians home from Malaysia. A ministry notice said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH754 will