Laos and Cambodia agree on culture and fine arts, education and information. They’d like to set up a deal on electricity, and they’re making progress on those nettlesome border issues.
That was the quick read Monday as Laotian Prime Minister Sisavath Keobounphanh arrived with about 30 officials at Pochentong Airport for a four-day state visit.
By 5 pm, the two countries had signed “cooperation agreements” on the first three topics and done some serious talking on the other two, according to Penn Thol, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.
He said he was optimistic the rest of the visit would be as productive.
“We consider Laos not only as a friend, but as a brother,” he said. “We have never had a problem with them.”
True, there have been some disputes over border areas, and officials from both countries failed to resolve those disputes at a conference held in Phnom Penh last February.
And true, student groups last year protested what they called gross encroachments into Cambodian territory by Laotians, while the Laotians said no, those people crossing into Cambodia were just uprooted Cambodians returning home.
But, said Penn Thol, “we are willing to solve this problem.”
He said that both sides had agreed to clearly mark the border where both sides agreed on its location, and to come to an understanding soon on the disputed areas.
“I am optimistic we will solve this by next year, because if not, we will have fighting,” he said.
Laos is also working on a plan to extend power lines to Cambodia’s northeastern provinces, he said.
Var Kim Hong, chief of the Council of Ministers’ commission on border disputes, said Monday night his commission will meet its Laotian counterpart on May 27 to travel along the border and mark the agreed-on areas.
Penn Thol said the Laotian premier seeks a more frequent exchange of delegations, while Prime Minister Hun Sen asked Laos for better cooperation on fighting drug smuggling. The prime ministers also agreed to work together to stop llegal logging.
The signings followed a mid-morning arrival ceremony at the airport, complete with hundreds of students waving nearly identical Cambodian and Laotian flags, a three-unit honor guard, a military band, and three highly amplified pop singers.
Hun Sen greeted Sisavath Keobounphanh on the broiling tarmac, leading him down a long red carpet past several hundred guests gamely waving flags and bouquets of paper flowers.
The two ministers did not speak to reporters, either at the airport or later at the Council of Ministers, where the agreements were signed.