Cham Scuffle With Soldiers Near Disputed Border Area

More than 300 locals from Tbong Khmum province accompanied by opposition lawmakers scuffled with Vietnamese soldiers Sunday morning while trying to reach a disputed 16.6-hectare plot of land along the country’s border with Vietnam.

Contacted after the incident, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann said the opposition was invited on the trip by a group of ethnic Chams living in the area who were enraged by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong’s recent claims that the site, which was being farmed by Cambodians, actually belonged to Vietnam.

“There was a confrontation and pushing for about an hour between 30 [Vietnamese] soldiers and our people,” he said, adding that the standoff eventually ended without any injuries.

The border row began last month after the Cambodians farming the site in Memot district complained to the CNRP that a group of Vietnamese nationals, including three soldiers, had sprayed poison chemicals on their crops.

When the CNRP asked the government to help the farmers, Mr. Namhong replied with a letter stating that the land was actually in Vietnam, sparking calls for his resignation.

Mr. Monyvann, who refutes the minister’s claim, said the local Chams wanted to see the disputed site for themselves, animated by their historic loss of the ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Champa in present day south-central Vietnam.

“They wanted to see the real situation with their own eyes, because they once lost their Champa land,” he said. “They were concerned that they would lose their land again, like the Champa.”

But when he and fellow lawmaker Mu Sochua arrived with hundreds of locals, Mr. Monyvann said, they were stopped by about 30 armed Vietnamese soldiers blocking their way to the 16.6-hectare area.

He said a group of Cambodian police watched from a distance as the locals scuffled with the soldiers before eventually managing to get around them and reach the site, where they looked around, and then left.

Mr. Monyvann said the soldiers briefly detained one of the locals, and the Cambodians did the same with a Vietnamese man in the area, but that the groups soon swapped detainees.

After leaving the site, the lawmaker added, “The Cham held a ceremony to express their concern about the situation and ask the government to check whether the foreign soldiers invaded our territory.”

“The yuon took our Champa land and they are trying to take Cambodian land,” said Lim Maysakone, who took part in the trip, using a term for the Vietnamese often considered derogatory. “We will not let them do it like before.”

Although the CNRP lawmakers said they were merely guests of the locals, provincial police chief Mao Pov accused them of inciting the crowd, which he put at about 300.

There was some pushing and shoving with the Vietnamese soldiers, he said, but “it was not a big deal.”

CPP spokesman Sok Ey San accused the CNRP of cynically using the border row to score political points and threatened to file a legal complaint against them.

“It is a controversial issue because some people use it to provoke anger,” he said.

“They should provide evidence when they speak,” he added. “But they don’t provide evidence, so they stoke anger for political advantage. So the government will look into this and could file a complaint against them because they speak without reason and without evidence.”

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