Nearing the end of a year that has seen tension over Cambodia’s border with Vietnam often dominate domestic political discourse, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday appeared alongside Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to inaugurate two new border posts in Ratanakkiri and Takeo provinces.
Delivering a scripted speech at the unveiling of a new demarcation post near the O’Yadaw border checkpoint in Ratanakkiri, Mr. Hun Sen said the two countries would begin negotiations to demarcate their borders at sea once they had completed the remaining 1,270 km of land boundaries.
Opposition politicians launched a crusade earlier this year to highlight encroachments by Vietnam —including along the border in Ratanakkiri—and to discredit the government’s work demarcating its eastern frontier.
Amid the opposition’s campaign, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a series of terse diplomatic notes to Vietnam asking for them to halt construction or withdraw from three contested border areas, or “white zones,” in the provinces of Ratanakkiri, Kandal and Kampot.
Hong Sok Hour, an opposition senator who was at the fore of the campaign, was then jailed in August after showing a doctored border treaty in a video posted to Facebook, and Mr. Hun Sen sent out a warning days later that anyone claiming the government was using the wrong maps to demarcate the border would face legal action.
On Saturday, the prime minister said that the government was both defending Cambodian territory and ensuring friendly relations with Vietnam in its work demarcating the border.
“The Cambodian government will pursue strong efforts with the government of Vietnam to ensure… it is the real international border by changing the border lines on the map to boundary posts on the ground,” Mr. Hun Sen said, noting that 16.8 percent of the shared border had yet to be officially marked.
“Obviously, this borderline has to run in line with the legal occupation of people living along the border to put an end to every irregularity or problem and to become the boundary area for our two countries to develop peacefully and harmoniously,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen added that the countries would begin work on staking out their claims to coastal waters once the land border was completely demarcated.
Communities living on the coast and on islands near Vietnam often complain of Vietnamese fishing boats freely entering Cambodian waters, and say they are using methods such as trawling that are both illegal and environmentally destructive.
Var Kimhong, chairman of the government’s border affairs committee, said on Sunday that it would still be a “long time” before talks over demarcating coastal waters begin.
“We will start negotiations to delineate the sea border with the Vietnamese side after the land border posts are completed,” Mr. Kimhong said.
“But we do not know yet when the negotiation will start because we need to take a long time to work on the land boundary posts.”
Both the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments have blamed “extremist” elements of the opposition for attempting to damage diplomatic relations for political gain and interfering with the border demarcation process along the way.
A report in state news agency Viet Nam News on Friday quoted Nguyen Anh Dung, deputy chairman of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s border commission, saying that the factors impeding the joint border work included “Cambodia opposition forces’ sabotage activities to divide bilateral friendship.”
Um Sam An, a CNRP lawmaker who has been a leading critic of the CPP’s border work and is living in self-imposed exile, said on Friday that the new posts in Ratanakkiri and Takeo were once again placed inside Cambodian territory and that their location did not match constitutionally mandated French-drawn maps.
Opposition lawmaker Mao Monyvann said on Sunday that the Foreign Affairs Ministry missives sent to Vietnam earlier this year were an admission that efforts to demarcate and defend the border were not going well.
“I don’t think the work of building the boundary posts is going smoothly because we have seen the government also recognized that some areas are being violated by the side of Vietnam,” he said.