PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The leaders of Cambodia and Laos vowed yesterday to recall troops from a disputed border area where tensions have been flaring for months, after the premiers held an emergency meeting.
Some 30 Laos soldiers have been stationed in Cambodia’s northern Stung Treng province since April to halt the construction of a road, according to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The spat escalated on Friday when Hun Sen started sending military vehicles up to the area, giving Laos an ultimatum to retreat in six days or face military action.
But yesterday Hun Sen flew to Vientiane for an urgent meeting with his Laos counterpart.
After the talks the pair announced the issue had been resolved in a joint press conference, broadcast live on Hun Sen’s Facebook.
The neighbours said they would ask border officials to work on demarcating the disputed patch of their 540-kilometre land border, where terriorital squabbles are fairly common.
“I have ordered relevant authorities to pull back troops by tomorrow morning,” Laos’ premier Thongloun Sisoulith said through a translator.
Hun Sen hailed the agreement as a “big success for both nations” and ordered his soldiers to turn around.
Following Hun Sen’s orders on Friday, a convoy of Cambodian troops and multiple rocket launchers rolled through the capital Phom Penh on their way north, eliciting cheers from onlookers.
The swell of nationalist fervour comes as Hun Sen readies for a political battle in next year’s general election.
The 65-year-old, a shrewd political operator who has held office for 32 years, often draws on heavily nationalist rhetoric to drum up support, especially ahead of election season.
He likes to portray himself as the saviour of the country that was ravaged by decades of civil war and foreign invasions.
But he will face a tough challenge from an opposition that has tapped into growing frustration over the corruption and inequality that have flourished during his rule.
Border issues are often highly politicised in Cambodia, with Hun Sen especially vulnerable to criticism of being too lenient in territorial agreements with Vietnam.