choam border pass, Oddar Meanchey province – Thai border soldiers told their Cambodian counterparts last week the border checkpoint here is on Thai soil and must be moved, a top border official said this week.
Meas Sopheap, the border police chief here, said he recently was shown a Thai-drawn map which stretches Thailand into an area occupied by his officers.
“This map is completely different from our map,” Meas Sopheap said at the checkpoint, which until last year served as one of the key lifelines for the outlawed Khmer Rouge.
The Thais want the border police unit to relocate their open-air office and several huts used as living quarters, he said, adding it was unclear how far the Thais wanted the structures moved.
The top RCAF commander in the area said his troops have been told to yield no territory to the Thais.
“Phnom Penh has ordered the units stationed along the border to defend their position,” said Yim Pim, the commander of division 23, based in Anlong Veng town, some 15 km south of here.
He added “the situation along the border at this moment is a bit tense.”
Phnom Penh gained authority over this region only last year when the final remnants of the Khmer Rouge joined the government. Authorities have done little to integrate residents here with the rest of Cambodia. For example, it’s easier to travel to Thailand than to Siem Reap town, the closest substantial settlement on Cambodian soil.
The Thai Embassy’s first secretary Nathapol Khantahiran, said Thursday “Bangkok cannot confirm anything” about a border disagreement at Choam pass.
He acknowledged earlier Thursday some border markers in the area may have been moved in recent years. “Most of the borders were moved during the war in Cambodia, over the past 30 years. All of the border lines are in question now,“ he said.
Var Kim Hong, the government’s top expert on border issues, was part of a delegation that visited Bangkok last month and held inconclusive talks on border issues.
“Up to now we haven’t had any difficulties with Thai police checkpoints in the [Choam pass] area,” Var Kim Hong said Thursday.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the Joint Boundary Committee is charged with settling border disputes between the two countries. “If this is true [about the Thai plan], it would be improper for the Thai authorities to deal with this locally,” Khieu Kanharith said. “They don’t have the authority.”
Students marched against the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh last month alleging encroachment. Prime Minister Hun Sen last week told government officials that authorities were addressing unresolved border issues and then met with some 30 of the students to inform them he was aware of their concerns.
Nevertheless, Cambodian police at Choam pass believe Thailand will not back down from its territorial claim. “I am predicting that in a short time ahead, Thailand will force us to move from our current position,” Meas Sopheap said. “But we will never comply with its order.”
Both Yim Pim and Meas Sopheap warned they are prepared to use force to defend the current border if provoked by Thailand. “In the case that Thailand uses armed forces to make us move, we have the right to defend ourselves,” Yim Pim said.
Personal relationships between the soldiers on either side of the border have deteriorated in recent months. Previously, the Thai side was manned by locals from Surin, the Khmer-influenced border province, said Sann Sut, a military policeman at the Choam checkpoint. Most of the Thai border soldiers from Surin spoke Khmer and got along well with Cambodian soldiers.
However, within the past year, the Thai government shifted the border unit and transferred soldiers who had been working along the Burma border to guard the Choam border pass, he said.
Yim Pim has also complained that at other points along the Anlong Veng district-Thai border, the Thai government has begun preparation to construct irrigation canals. He thinks Cambodian officials should have been consulted.