More than 400 Laotian soldiers have crossed into Cambodian territory to block military engineers from constructing a road, sparking an armed buildup in the border area over the past two weeks, Cambodian officials said on Sunday.
Cambodia’s Border Protection Military Unit 101 reported that the incursion of Laotian forces in Stung Treng province had caused a halt to road construction near the border since February 8, a statement posted to the National Police website says.
“After the Laotian military sent reinforcements, the Cambodian side also prepared forces to defend the border, including Border Protection Military Unit 101, Border Protection Police Unit 701, the provincial military, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Military Region 1 and military engineers,” the statement says.
The Cambodian officers advised their Laotian counterparts not to bring arms into Cambodia, “but the Laotian military did not agree to Cambodia’s request, and they responded that they were following orders,” it says.
High-level meetings are planned from today through February 27, the statement says, without giving details about who would participate in the talks.
It says the road being built is a 257 km, strategic route from Stung Treng City to Siem Pang district along the border. Construction started in 2015 and about 150 km has already been built.
“We’re still continuing the construction of the road, and higher-level officials will solve this problem,” said Seng Ith, commander of the military engineering unit in charge of the road’s construction.
My Bunporn, commander of Border Protection Military Unit 101 in Siem Pang, confirmed the timing of the alleged incursion, but would not comment further.
Sun Ban, chief of Border Protection Police Unit 701; Mom Saroeun, Stung Treng provincial governor; and his deputy, Kong Sipha, declined to comment. Kvan Seam, commander of the Defense Ministry’s military engineering headquarters, and ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached.
Tensions along the Laotian border—which still has undemarcated stretches—have flared up from time to time, including in April last year when Cambodian forces prevented Laotian military construction trucks being used to build a military base from using a road that cuts through Cambodian territory.