Hun Sen Creates New Military Brigade After Border Dispute

Prime Minister Hun Sen established a new military brigade in Stung Treng province on Wednesday, less than a week after announcing and then resolving a border crisis with traditional ally and northern neighbor Laos.

“We will establish a new Intervention Brigade 128, or call it Infantry Brigade 128, under the command of Military Region 1,” the prime minister said in a Facebook post on Wednesday while visiting the northern province. Region 1 covers the provinces of Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri.

cam photo hun sen facebook 1
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers sit at tables in Stung Treng province yesterday, in a photograph posted to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page.

“These arrangements do not aim to wage war with neighboring countries, but aim to defend the country and people, and promote good relationships with neighboring countries,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

The new brigade of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces would include thousands of soldiers, Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said on Wednesday, and would draw troops from existing units.

“It is not a new recruitment but a combination from several units,” General Sucheat said on Wednesday. “It is a mobile intervention brigade where soldiers will have regular training and be stationed near the border,” he said, declining to give a specific number due to national security concerns.

The opposition has raised concerns in the past about increases in defense spending during a period of peace, arguing other sectors such as education or health should be prioritized.

Contacted on Wednesday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment on the troop changes, saying the issue needed to be studied further.

The establishment of a new brigade follows a Friday statement from Mr. Hun Sen that ordered Laotian soldiers occupying part of Stung Treng to leave within six days. The prime minister also mobilized troops northward and announced he would fly to Vientiane.

The next day, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith ordered his troops to withdraw during a joint media conference with Mr. Hun Sen in the Laotian capital. Mr. Hun Sen later blamed the dispute on a miscommunication, saying the Laotian foreign minister had failed to deliver a letter on his behalf to Mr. Sisoulith. Mr. Hun Sen added that he had installed messaging application WhatsApp on Mr. Sisoulith’s phone to avoid such problems in the future.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne)

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