CNRP Slams Gov’t Refusal to Share Border Map

Opposition lawmaker Mao Monyvann on Thursday rebuked the government over its repeated refusals to publicly release a copy of a map of Cambodia’s border with Vietnam, saying he would push ahead with a banned press conference to publicize the lack of transparency on the issue.

Mr. Monyvann has over the past month led an opposition campaign to expose alleged Vietnamese violations of Cambodia’s eastern border, but argues that the effort is being hampered by the government’s refusal to provide the map it uses in negotiating territorial demarcation with Vietnam.

With Var Kimhong, the Cambodian chairman of the joint border committee with Vietnam, rebuffing his letters requesting the map, the lawmaker planned to hold a press conference at the parliament today but was denied permission by CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

“The National Assembly never issued a mission letter for His Excellency to work on this, so I cannot authorize a press conference at the National Assembly,” Mr. Samrin scribbled on a letter that Mr. Monyvann had sent him notifying him of the planned press conference this morning.

Mr. Monyvann said he now plans to hold his press conference on Monday, saying he might hold it in front of the National Assembly building if he is not allowed use the parliament’s facilities to publicize Mr. Kimhong’s refusals.

“If he does not reveal [the border map], it means that whatever they have done with the posting of the border markers has been in secret. Some have the opinion that he has posted the border markers without using the 1:100,000-scale map kept at the U.N.,” Mr. Monyvann said.

The Constitution dictates that the 1:100,000-scale map approved by the U.N. in the 1960s—as opposed to different maps, such as a 1:50,000-scale map the opposition says the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh regime wrongly used in the 1980s —must be used as the basis for borders.

Yet the CNRP complains that it is impossible to verify whether the government is following the correct map without having access to it.

“If the map is the real 1:100,000-scale map held at the U.N., then we can verify the serials and code numbers on the map with the tangible border posts,” Mr. Monyvann said.

Mr. Kimhong declined to comment Thursday on why the border map could not be released to the public, saying that officials had displayed it during televised roundtable discussions many times, to little response from the CNRP.

“It’s an old case and we have provided answers many times so I do not want to add anything,” Mr. Kimhong said.

“They do not listen to what we have showed at the roundtable discussions. We have showed the maps on televisions and Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] has explained it many times, but they ignore it,” he explained.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said it would simply not be prudent to release the official map while small-scale territorial swaps continue to be negotiated. These swaps were mandated by the 2005 supplemental border treaty with Vietnam to reduce social upheavals; they allow Cambodian and Vietnamese villages located on the wrong side of the official borderline to be returned to their home nations.

“The Vietnamese border is a very delicate issue, and though we have treaties and conventions, the demarcation is an ongoing issue and is being negotiated. They are working on it according to the conventions,” Mr. Siphan said.

“Even the Vietnamese side does not just release the map to their public during the demarcation of the border; this is the international standard,” he said. “What is already demarcated, we could release that, but we do not want political issues to develop from areas still being demarcated.”

“We don’t want territorial conflicts; we want stability on the border in order to demarcate it,” he said.

However, Ou Virak, a political consultant and founder of the Future Forum think tank, said more transparency on demarcation could be useful and that dealing with potential backlash is a normal part of democratic governing.

“There’s nothing wrong with being accountable to the public and I don’t see what the problem would be with making it public,” Mr. Virak said.

“I can understand the sensitivity of the issue, but the process itself is also key. You can’t just assume you can do [demarcation] and ignore public opinion. The more they do it secretly, the more the public might have issues,” he added.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that he supported Mr. Monyvann’s efforts to push the government to release the map, adding that the claim that the border committee has not used the 1:100,000 map cannot be ruled out until the government reveals Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.

“This is a possibility, and to clear any suspicions, the government should say that we, on the Cambodian side, are using such-and-such a map,” Mr. Rainsy said. “There are also areas where the border is not yet delineated, so we want to know: in the delineation, which map will they use?”            Mr. Rainsy has said that the opposition would in coming months mount a campaign to re-examine the controversial 2005 border treaty with Vietnam, which was also negotiated by the government in secret, with an eye to renegotiating it if they find it cannot protect Cambodian border communities.

Yet he said Thursday that a plan announced earlier this week by Mr. Monyvann and fellow CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An to summon Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong and Mr. Kimhong for questioning over the border has been vetoed by the party leadership.

“Yesterday, we had a meeting of our steering committee, and we told them that we want to coordinate all the different individual initiatives from our individual lawmakers. We have to do this step by step,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“Just to call these people to answer to accusations is not productive, and is not in the spirit of the culture of dialogue. We don’t want to just needlessly confront the ruling party for the interests of electoral politics,” he explained.

Mr. Rainsy said that the CNRP would focus first on having the map released, along with the re-establishment of a cross-party Supreme National Council on Border Affairs, which would allow the CNRP to take part in demarcation.

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