A Joint Border Committee meeting between Cambodia and Vietnam ended in Phnom Penh yesterday without a statement, and with Cambodia’s minister in charge of border affairs saying a dispute had broken out about the legal principle of “uti possidetis.”
Var Kimhong, speaking at the Council of Ministers building after the two-day meeting, did not say specifically what the discord was about—only that Vietnam rejected Cambodia’s claims that the principle should apply to demarcation of the border.
With stretches of the border remaining disputed, Mr. Kimhong said Cambodia had argued that uti possidetis—that countries continue to possess the territory they had at colonial independence—be applied by following French colonial maps.
“There was no result, because we did not agree on the principle of uti possidetis,” Mr. Kimhong said.
“The reason we did not agree on this principle was because we clearly understand the importance of uti possidetis when Cambodia received independence in 1953, but our friends did not agree,” he said.
Mr. Kimhong said the Vietnamese had argued that the principle did not apply, as it had been superseded by a number of treaties signed since Hanoi installed a new government in Phnom Penh in 1979.
“I explained to them that what they think is not right, because the principle of uti possidetis is a principle of international law, because international law is not affected by any treaties,” he said.
Vietnamese officials did not speak to reporters after the meeting, heading straight to the airport.
Over the past 18 months, the demarcation of the Cambodia-Vietnam border has been one of the biggest political issues in the country, with the opposition CNRP having led a campaign last year accusing the government of ceding large stretches of land to Vietnam.
An opposition lawmaker and a senator are presently in jail in relation to the campaign, with Prime Minister Hun Sen threatening to arrest anyone who claims that the government had used Vietnamese-drawn maps to demarcate the borderline.
Mr. Kimhong said the dispute during the meeting showed the government was no pushover.
“Border affairs are a sensitive issue that the government led by Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] has paid attention to, and he has never allowed them step on our territorial sovereignty,” he said.