Vietnamese and Cambodian forces scuffled Friday after Vietnamese troops tried to prevent the landing of a helicopter carrying a Cambodian delegation sent to investigate possible border encroachment in Kompong Cham province.
The brief shoving bout between the two sides erupted when Cambodian military police tried to set up a security cordon near the Cambodian border village of Boh Takok for the arrival of the delegation, Chem Vichit, deputy Kompong Cham provincial military police commander, said Sunday.
Fifty Vietnamese soldiers— armed with AK-47 rifles—pushed and shoved Cambodian authorities as the helicopter tried to land, Chem Vichit said.
On board were Var Kim Hong, chairman of the government’s border dispute commission, Mao Phirum, Kompong Cham second deputy governor, and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officials. The Vietnamese soldiers advanced, waving their weapons in the air and saying the helicopter could not land because the landing zone was on Vietnamese territory, Chem Vichit said.
The helicopter finally landed, despite the protests, and the Vietnamese troops eventually let the delegation inspect the disputed areas.
The standoff could have turned into a gun battle, Chem Vichit said.
“We warned [the Vietnamese] that if they opened fire we would respond with the same force,” he said. “The situation was tense.”
Nguyen Duy Hung, Vietnam’s ambassador to Cambodia, said Sunday he had not been informed of the border incident but would check on the details.
He said the embassy had informed Vietnamese border authorities of the slated visit by the Cambodian delegation.
“Why should we do something like that if they landed on Cambodian territory?” he said.
Var Kim Hong said Sunday he was very disappointed with the actions of the Vietnamese border forces.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh was notified of the intended visit last Wednesday by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Var Kim Hong said .
But the notification, rather than prevent an incident, seemingly led to the deployment of extra Vietnamese forces in the disputed territory, he said.
Var Kim Hong warned if the Vietnamese do not respect border treaties reached between the governments, Cambodia would cancel all treaties regarding border areas.
“This is unsuitable…. We went to find the truth and solve the problem. We did not bring armed forces and create a problem,” he said
The delegation made the border visit after National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold talks with Vietnam over alleged border violations in Kompong Cham’s Memot and Ponhea Krek districts.
In a letter to Hun Sen, the Prince said Vietnam has violated a 1995 agreement he reached with them settling disputes over land. Cambodians have farmed the land for several years but were stopped this year by Vietnamese authorities who say the land overlaps Vietnamese land.
Var Kim Hong said he stands by Cambodia’s claim to disputed land in Memot and Ponhea Krek districts.
According to Kompong Cham Governor Chieng Am, Vietnamese border officials are disputing ownership of five parcels of land ranging in size from 20 to 130 hectares.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)