Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged Thursday that some of the border posts demarcating the frontier with Vietnam may have been incorrectly positioned inside Cambodia, but said the government can review them and “demand corrections.”
Since last month, opposition CNRP lawmakers have led a campaign to uncover Vietnamese encroachments into Cambodia while also accusing the CPP government of complicity in planting border posts well inside Cambodian territory.
Mr. Hun Sen has long fiercely rejected such claims—most notably in a marathon five-hour speech in the National Assembly in 2012—but said Thursday that posts along the 1,228-km Vietnamese border may have to be re-examined.
“Now we have done 83 percent [of the border demarcation] and there remains 17 percent. And that 83 percent, we can revise [those posts] and go audit some others. In cases of demarcation with bias, we must rectify it, must demand corrections,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a speech at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.
However, the prime minister rejected claims from the opposition that his government—created under the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s—has been too fast to bow to Hanoi, saying that the opposite is true.
“I told the negotiators: If negotiations do not reach an agreement, and they need to be dragged out, then drag them out—it’s better than losing land,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“Pose the question: It has been nearly 30 years since the Vietnamese army was in Cambodia. Why has the demarcation not finished?” the prime minister asked, pausing. “It’s because the Khmer have not agreed. This is the true story.”
Mr. Hun Sen also appeared to warn Vietnam against being too aggressive in negotiations over border demarcations, or in finding undue confidence in current tensions between Cambodia’s government and the opposition.
“I send a message to our partners, the neighboring countries, that Cambodia does not give up the right to make demands on some other points, even if Cambodia has not yet united on some points internally,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said by telephone that Mr. Hun Sen’s speech—after years of denials that any markers had been placed wrongly and caused the loss of Cambodian land to Vietnam—was a vindication of long-held opposition policies.
“I welcome this recognition on behalf of the prime minister that at least some of the border markers have been planted wrongly inside Cambodia’s territory, and this vindicates what I have been trying to expose for many years,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“Many people will remember that when I first said these border markers were inappropriately planted, I was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison—10 years for destroying public property, and two years for spreading false information,” he added.
Mr. Rainsy said the growth of social media in Cambodia had broken the CPP’s stranglehold on the country’s media and forced it to deal with the Vietnamese border issue under pressure from the CNRP.
“It’s a new environment. There are new rules for the game and the CPP cannot work the same as it did before, because technology is available to everybody,” he said.
Also Thursday, the government sent a team led by Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo to an area in Svay Rieng province’s Kompong Ro district to inspect a disputed area alongside foreign ministry counterparts from Vietnam.
“We did not finish yet,” said district police chief Sath Samuth last night. “They did not accept that the disputed land belongs to us and it might continue tomorrow.”
On Sunday, opposition lawmaker Real Camerin plans to lead his second trip to border markers 202 and 203 on the border in Kompong Ro district to highlight alleged encroachments by Vietnam.
But Buntenh, head of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, said Thursday he would be sending 50 monks from his group alongside Mr. Camerin.
The prominent monk said that he was pleased to see Mr. Hun Sen taking a stronger stance on territorial encroachments, but that the prime minister should also adjust the labels he has been using recently for his political rivals.
“Hun Sen and his officials have confessed now that they have not done a really good job, but it is good that he says he will not give up—even if there are some controversies—and now plans to make things right,” But Buntenh said.
“The fruit is ripe now. Hun Sen knows it is ripe and so he has to eat it,” the monk added. “In the meantime, he should stop condemning the opposition as extreme nationalists. If it was not for the opposition, he might not have this very good opportunity.”
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)