The conflict originated when Cambodia rejected Vietnam’s proposal to build four new, formal border checkpoints, only accepting one. In response, Vietnam blocked off four heavily travelled, informal crossings.

Speaking to reporters following a year-end meeting of police officials, Chantharith downplayed the severity of the dispute. “We are having a special negotiation. The Ratanakkiri provincial governor is solving the problem without any huge challenge,” he said.

But Governor Nguon Keoun and his deputy, Yem Sam Oeun, said the closures have been an inconvenience to Cambodian border units, and a resolution is not imminent.

“Vietnam asked to open four more checkpoints and we thought that three of them were not important because they access the forest . . . not the paved road,” said Sam Oeun.

“On 12 December, Vietnam dug and cut up the road, but later on, they filled it up and then they built the fence to separate it,” he added.

Sam Oeun said the one agreed-upon border checkpoint has not been opened either, because it requires approval at the “national level”.

He condemned Vietnam’s response, saying it is an inconvenience to the border troops who often crossed into Vietnam to buy goods.

Sam Oeun also said the move unfairly impacts ethnic minority communities that cross the border daily to visit relatives.

“Our province and Kon Tum province have ethnic people. In fact, they are siblings and relatives, and they cross back and forth as normal,” he explained.

He said both sides would meet to discuss the issue, but a date has not yet been set.

San Chey, country director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said Vietnam may want more efficient paths for smuggling illegal timber.

“Vietnam controls many economic land concessions in the northeast and most of the economic concessions were accused of involvement with smuggling timber,” he said

Regional analyst Paul Chambers, with Naresuan University in Thailand, said the move was a signal that Vietnam was willing to flex its strength.

“It could signal a more aggressive stance by Vietnam amidst its perception of too strong a tilt by Cambodia toward China,” he said.

By Mech Dara - The Phnom Penh Post - January 8, 2018