Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn will lead a delegation to Laos on Thursday to strengthen bilateral cooperation, particularly regarding border issues, after the countries faced tensions between their armed forces last month in an area where border markers had not been clearly demarcated.
“The visit aims at strengthening and expanding the scope and depth of bilateral cooperation, including [the] border issue, as well as cooperation within regional and international forums of shared interest,” the ministry said in a press release on Wednesday.
The delegation is set to visit Laos on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of Laos’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Ket Sophann could not be reached for comment.
Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post the visit was intended to enhance Cambodia-Laos relations.
“Border issues will also be raised in order to clarify the situation for mutual understanding because there have been some misunderstandings recently.
“Overall, Cambodia and Laos have traditionally been good brothers and neighbours. The two countries rarely face challenges or conflicts with each other, whether political, cultural or border issues. The visit is more about deepening the ties between the two countries,” he said.
Phea said the border issue was a sensitive subject and he was not certain that Sokhonn’s visit would resolve the countries’ concerns completely, because some disagreements remained regarding mapping and technical aspects, which had prompted the two nations to ask France to intervene.
“However, it’s possible to show that they have taken a diplomatic stand to resolve their differences peacefully.
“Using diplomatic means is better, so people can see that the two countries have no problem with each other,” he said.
Raising the border issue with a face-to-face visit would help relieve the situation, Chea said, as some members of the public had wrongly come to believe that Cambodia and Laos had serious challenges.
Political analyst Em Sovannara told The Post that the visit was a positive move, but should have been undertaken earlier – soon after the border challenge was made in the Mom Bei area of Preah Vihear province.
“I don’t think there are any major issues. This can be addressed with proper application,” Sovannara said.
Minister of National Defence Tea Banh last month dismissed media reports 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, saying Cambodia had increased its troop presence and had been 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 had been 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 on August 28.
The part of the Cambodia-Laos border in question has yet to have border markers installed, so some Cambodians who were unaware of the demarcation had planted crops, which Lao troops removed, he said.
The Cambodians then reported this to the Cambodian soldiers, which led to a misunderstanding.
In 2017, there was a months-long stalemate over a contested piece of borderland in Stung Treng province, where Lao forces had blocked Cambodian military engineers from building a road.
Eventually, in August of that year, the Lao troops occupying territory south of the Sekong River withdrew peacefully after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave them a six-day deadline to leave and dispatched two military brigades and members of his personal Bodyguard Unit to the border.