Border Troops On Standby After Threat From Laos

Cambodian soldiers in Stung Treng province have been placed on standby following threats of violence by Laotian authorities due to a dispute over Laos’ attempt to construct a military base near a stretch of undemarcated border, a spokes­man for the provincial government said on Friday.

On April 1, the Laotian military began digging a trench for a new base 30 meters from an area of undemarcated border separating Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district from Laos’ Champasak pro­vince, sparking protests from officials in Stung Treng, who say the two countries have agreed not to construct new buildings in the area until the border is properly demarcated.

When Stung Treng officials visited their Laotian counterparts this week seeking a solution, Laotian officials refused to negotiate and threatened violence if they were prevented from continuing with the construction, provincial spokesman Men Kung said on Friday.

“Our Laotian counterparts refused to meet with us. They just said that their construction was based on the decision of the Laos government in Vientiane,” he said.

“They said that they would only listen to commands from their government, and that if we went to stop their activity, it would lead to gunfire,” he added.

Mr. Kung said Cambodian military forces had been put on standby as a precaution.

“We already have prepared the force on standby here, but I can not tell you specifics,” he said. “We are ready. We have support forces and forces at the front.”

The meetings with Laotian authorities this week followed a letter sent by Stung Treng officials calling on the Laotians to halt construction and wait for the countries’ joint border committee to demarcate the area, to which Laos did not reply, said Mr. Kung.

He added that provincial governor Mom Saroeun sent a report to Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday informing him of the situation and requesting advice.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said that he was aware of the dispute, but that he did not know what orders had been given to the troops in Stung Treng. He said, however, that no military forces had been moved into the area from elsewhere in the country.

Var Kimhong, chairman of the government’s border affairs committee, could not be reached for comment.

The Laotian construction site is located about 30 meters inside disputed territory that is provisionally administered by Laos, near the Trapaing Kriel International Checkpoint.

Ek Sivandorn, deputy Stung Treng police chief in charge of border affairs, said that while Cambodian authorities had not attempted to stop the construction of the base, they had been blocking building materials from being transported along National Road 7 and into the disputed area. There is no road access to the site from the Laotian side.

“What we can do every day is to prevent the Laotians from transporting the materials along our road to the construction site,” Mr. Sivandorn said.

“We prevent only vehicles that are transporting sand, rock and metal,” he said. “We order them to turn their vehicles around.”

Present-day efforts to demarcate the 540-km long border between Laos and Cambodia began in 2000 and are still not complete.

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