Authorities downplayed a dispute with Laos on Monday following a buildup of military forces on both sides of the border in reaction to hundreds of Laotian soldiers entering Cambodian territory to prevent military engineers from constructing a road.
Over the past two weeks, Cambodian officials claim that more than 400 armed Laotian soldiers had crossed into Stung Treng province, causing work on the 257 km road—running from Stung Treng City to Siem Pang district—to be halted. In response, Cambodian forces were sent to “defend the border,” according to a statement posted to the National Police website over the weekend.
Contacted on Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat insisted that Cambodia was not violating any border agreements with its neighbor.
“We constructed the road in Cambodian territory based on the map that was made by France,” General Socheat said, in reference to borders drawn up when both countries were French protectorates in the first half of the 20th century. “However, the Laotian side accused us of constructing the road on the line of both countries’ border.”
“We are trying to solve this problem peacefully because we don’t want to have conflict with our neighboring country,” he said. “Normally, bringing arms into our territory is wrong but…we don’t want this problem to become any bigger.”
Var Kimhong, the minister in charge of border affairs, said only that the countries “plan to meet each other soon.”
Such border disputes have sporadically flared up between Cambodia and Laos, partly due to undemarcated stretches. The most recent was in April, when Cambodian forces stopped Laotian military trucks being used to build a military base from using a road that crossed the border.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the current dispute had not reached top officials.
“We don’t have any reaction from the top level, from Phnom Penh, yet. It relates to the local level…as well as the joint border committee between Cambodia and Laos, who can talk,” he said.
“I don’t think this will escalate at all.”
(Additional reporting by George Wright)