Laotian soldiers have begun digging trenches inside Cambodian territory, to prevent the construction of a road that could alter the border line between the two countries.
The tensions began on the 8th of February, when more than 400 soldiers from Laos moved into Cambodia’s Siem Pang district. The Laotian military made the move to demand that Cambodian military engineers stop work on a 257 km stretch of roam between Stung Treng City and Siem Pang District. The Laotians argue that this road is crossing into their country’s territory.
Following the mobilisation of troops by Laos, the Cambodian government sent reinforcements to defend the border. This included the Border Protection Military Unit 101, Border Protection Police Unit 701, the provincial military, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Military Region 1 and military engineers.
The Laotian troops have ignored the Cambodian military request to not enter their territory armed with their firearms.
The most recent escalation of the Laotian military digging trenches and making camp within Cambodian territory is likely a response to the stagnated status of negotiations between the two states.
Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith arrived in Cambodia on the 22nd of February for a state visit amidst this dispute.
The situation has still remained unchanged despite the negotiations in progress. Duong Pov, deputy Stung Treng provincial governor explained that an agreement had still not been reached following the most recent meeting on Monday:
“The meetings have not yet resulted in a good resolution because the Laotian side still does not agree with us….We still have a stance, that is to continue to construct that road because it is the government’s plan, but the Laotian side still does not agree with us.”
Mr. Pov still remains optimistic, that the dispute can be solved peacefully:
“We are still trying to be patient in order to solve it peacefully, because we don’t want to have a big conflict with each other,” he said, adding that Laotian officials said they would call upon national level officials to come and inspect the scene.
This dispute comes amidst growing tensions between the two countries over a series of dams that Laos has been constructing. Laos’ controversial dams, including the Xayaburi and Don Sahong near the border with Cambodia, have become a major concern for people living along the rivers. It is feared that the construction of a third dam, The Pak Beng dam could have a serious impact on fisheries and sediment flow in the Mekong.
The Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC), which consists of 52 organizations, on Thursday sent a proposal to the Cambodian National Mekong Committee to raise the concerns and ask the government to support the cancellation of the project.