Cambodia and Laos have agreed to withdraw troops from disputed territory near the border in Preah Vihear province in a bid to ease tension between the two countries and move forward with border negotiations.
The Mom Bei area in the province’s Chhep district is disputed by Laos. Its troops have been encroaching on the Cambodian territory over the past two weeks.
A Cambodian military official said Lao troops have orders to destroy crops and eventually claim the territory as their own.
However, after Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith spoke on Saturday tensions began to ease.
Mr Hun Sen told local media that he spoke with his Lao counterpart on the phone and the two nations agreed to withdraw soldiers from the disputed area.
“I have spoken with Premier Thongloun Sisoulith and we had a good and pleasant conversation,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We agreed to withdraw troops from the Mom Bei area, which has not yet been demarcated. We will continue to conduct negotiations.”
He added that Cambodians should not worry about the issue.
“So far, there has been no tension – our two countries’ troops have stayed together and ate together, so our people should not worry,” Mr Hun Sen said, noting that Mr Thongloun will visit Phnom Penh next month to discuss the border issue.
Major General Mao Phalla, spokesman for the Royal Cambodian Army, on Saturday said senior Lao military officers have been meeting with Cambodian military officers to solve the problem.
“Our senior military officers are negotiating with Laos over this issue,” Maj Gen Phalla said. “Lao soldiers entered the area on August 14 in order to destroy our farmers’ crops and claim the territory as its own.”
Chea Kimseng, deputy provincial governor of Preah Vihear, on Friday said in the event of an armed clash, families from four villages will be evacuated.
This is not the first time border tensions arose between both nations.
In 2017, hundreds of Lao soldiers invaded the Ou’ Alai and Ou’Ta Ngav areas in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district during a dispute about the construction of a road near the border.
At that time, Mr Hun Sen ordered thousands of troops to be deployed along the border and issued an ultimatum to Laos to pull out its forces within six days.
A day later, Laos agreed to withdraw its troops after Mr Hun Sen flew to Vientiane to talk with his counterpart.
Both nations began work to demarcate the 540-kilometre border in 2000.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said the root of the conflict between both nations is because Laos is still using a map not recognised by the government.
“They use a unilateral map for an international border demarcation,” Mr Phea said. “We do not want to go to war with neighbouring countries – we want development.”
In March, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn blamed Laos for bogging down demarcation work along the border.
Mr Sokhonn said the remaining 16 percent could have been done had the Lao government not requested for an old French map to be referenced.
“We cannot accept the Lao request because they want to use a map produced in 1902, a year when France had not yet transferred Stung Treng province to Cambodian territory,” he said. “This work has been a headache.”