More than a month after rejecting a letter from an opposition lawmaker pressing the government for answers about plantations in Ratanakkiri province controlled by the Vietnamese army, National Assembly President Heng Samrin this week forwarded a revised version to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The letter from CNRP parliamentarian Um Sam An, a fierce critic of the government’s work defending Cambodia’s border, refers to a Cambodia Daily article published in December revealing that about 40,000 hectares of economic land concessions (ELCs) had been acquired by Vietnamese military commanders.
The letter poses three questions to the prime minister: It asks why the Vietnamese People’s Army was given control of the concessions, whether Vietnamese soldiers are present on the plantations and whether the government intends to take back the land.
“Please, Samdech Prime Minister, clarify this in accordance with the principle stipulated in Article 96 of the Constitution,” says the letter, which was signed by Mr. Samrin on Wednesday.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said Mr. Samrin, who is legally obliged to forward letters from lawmakers to relevant ministers, endorsed the latest letter because demands for answers had been rephrased as questions.
“Samdech President has signed the letter, and we have already sent the letter to Samdech Prime Minister,” he said.
“Samdech President did not sign [the previous letter] because Mr. Um Sam An has no right to force the prime minister to give answers to Mr. Um Sam An’s questions, and the letter was meant to create propaganda for personal advantage.”
Mr. Sam An said he was pleased that Mr. Samrin decided to send his letter to the government “because our people want to know whether the government has granted economic land concessions to Vietnamese soldiers.”
“I think that providing the economic land concessions to Vietnam is a serious danger to the nation, and if the government does not confiscate the land, Cambodia would lose its territory,” he said.
In November, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth declined to say whether the government was aware that the Vietnamese army controlled the plantations, but said they would be included in a nationwide review of ELCs. Mr. Hun Sen announced last month that 1 million hectares of ELCs had been reclaimed following the review, but the government has yet to release details about where the land is located.
In August, the prime minister threatened to arrest anyone who claimed that the government was using invalid maps to demarcate its border with Vietnam, a warning that Mr. Sam An has ignored.
The lawmaker has been living outside the country for months, fearing he would be jailed upon his return. Despite saying he would return only when opposition leader Sam Rainsy—also in self-imposed exile—came back to Cambodia, Mr. Sam An said Thursday that he had booked a flight back to the country and planned to return in the second week of April.
Additional reporting by Kim Chan