Prime Minister Heads to Vientiane After Giving Laos Troops 6 Days to Leave Border Area

Prime Minister Hun Sen flew to Vientiane on Saturday and secured a commitment from Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to call back Laos’ troops from a contested border area in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province.

“I’ve ordered the authorities involved to withdraw troops from that area by tomorrow morning,” Mr. Sisoulith was quoted by Reuters as saying on Saturday.

 

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a ceremony at the Peace Palace on Friday, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

The trip follows Mr. Hun Sen’s Friday warning to Laotian troops, telling them to retreat from the disputed patch of border area by Thursday this week, even as Cambodian troops were mobilizing in the area, officials said.

“We don’t declare war,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a Friday ceremony at the Peace Palace before departing for the trip, “we just ask to get our land back and we won’t take land from anyone.”

The Foreign Ministry on Friday said Mr. Hun Sen’s trip to Vientiane to meet with his Laos counterpart was an opportunity to discuss the Laos troops that entered Stung Treng province in April. They were ordered out of the area, but “did not retreat,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

“If you see troops movement, please don’t panic,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “They’re heading to Stung Treng.”

Mr. Hun Sen said he previously spoke to Mr. Sisoulith in May, but the troops in the area did not withdrawal. “I have to fly to Laos right away to meet with the Laotian prime minister to ask him a straight question, ‘Do you pull out or not?’” Mr. Hun Sen said. 

“I want to send a message from here appealing to Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to pull out troops from Cambodia unconditionally,” he said. “I give you six days.”

Defense Minister Tea Banh and two generals, Pol Saroeun, the commander-in-chief of the military and Kun Kim, his deputy, were ordered to mobilize in case they were needed to secure the area by force.

In Stung Treng, about 40 Laotian soldiers were massed, said Sun Ban, chief of border protection unit 701.

“Forces are ready to push those Laotian soldiers aways from our territory,”  he said. “If they won’t move the troops in six days, then we will start to take action, because Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] has announced it.”

Dozens of Laotian soldiers started building a post on a disputed tract of land along the board in April, breaking a deal between the two countries to avoid building in an undemarcated area that  a joint border committee was still seeking to resolve. The site was about 7 km from Laos’ Trapaing Kriel International Checkpoint.

“Our forces are ready,” Mr. Chum Socheat, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

At the time, local officials said about 30 Laotian soldiers were in the area. Mr. Socheat said he was unsure about the size of the current Laos force in Cambodia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn was also asked to try to defuse the situation and was to meet with Laos’ ambassador to Cambodia over the border dispute, Mr. Hun Sen said.

Chum Sounry, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Ministry, could not be reached for comment.

The Laos Embassy in Cambodia declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)

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Updated: This article has been updated to reflect Mr. Hun Sen’s arrival in Laos on Saturday.

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