Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on Wednesday said the government should bring the issue of Vietnamese incursions into Cambodian territory before an international court if its recent diplomatic notes to Vietnam demanding it respect Cambodia’s sovereignty go ignored.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry last week sent a strongly-worded missive to Vietnam demanding it “respect the borderline” after officials found five large Vietnamese-dug ponds “deep in Cambodian territory” in Ratanakkiri province.
In a follow-up letter to National Assembly President Heng Samrin on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong rejected claims by the opposition that the diplomatic note represented a change in policy from the Cambodian government following years of alleged weakness against such incursions.
“From 2013 to 2015, there have been eight diplomatic notes issued, and that excludes the diplomatic notes dated June 12 and 14, 2015, concerning Vietnamese ponds dug in O’Yadaw district in Ratanakkiri province,” Mr. Namhong wrote.
“The diplomatic notes dated June 12 and 14, 2015, are not the first notes the government, through Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, [have sent to] protest invasions onto Cambodian territory, as people have said.”
In response, Mr. Sokha, speaking on Voice of Democracy radio Wednesday afternoon, said if Mr. Namhong was telling the truth, the apparent refusal of the Vietnamese government to rein in its citizens required a strong response.
“Everybody who is Cambodian, from the ruling or opposition party, cares about the invasion of foreign countries [and] it’s the right thing to do to respond to the invasion,” Mr. Sokha said of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s recent notes.
“But the important thing is whether the notes have an effective result or not. If there’s no effective response [from Vietnam], we cannot just wait for it. As I have heard, the diplomatic notes have been issued from 2013 until 2015,” he added.
“The issue of invasions have continued happening,” Mr. Sokha continued. “If the diplomatic notes at the first stage worked, then that would be fine. But if it is not effective, we need to move to another step for resolution.”
“Like the government used to do with the Thai with the diplomatic notes. When it is not effective, the government has to move to another step by filing a case to an international court. If there is no effective [response] for this case, the government should disclose its position on what it will do next,” Mr. Sokha said.
The deputy CNRP president also called on the government to maintain transparency in dealings over the border, saying that in the past it had either denied any knowledge of Vietnamese incursions into Cambodian territory or simply rejected the claims.
“Now it leaks diplomatic notes saying they know they have been invading for a long time. In the past, whatever we said, they claimed we didn’t speak the truth,” Mr. Sokha said. “Such secrecy hides the truth and cannot solve the issue.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also sent another note to Vietnam on Wednesday requesting that its government cease digging a hole intended for the construction of a military post inside Cambodian land in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district.
The letter says an initial request was made on April 24 but had thus far been ignored by Vietnamese authorities.
Speaking alongside Mr. Sokha on the radio Wednesday afternoon, opposition leader Sam Rainsy credited the CPP government’s recent action over the Vietnamese border to his new “culture of dialogue” with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Yet Mr. Rainsy cautioned against any hopes among opposition supporters that the months-old political atmosphere would bring fast solutions to territorial grievances, which he said go back to before the word “Vietnam” even existed.
“I want to clarify that the culture of dialogue is not a magic drug that can immediately settle…all the issues that have existed for hundreds of years with the Yuon,” Mr. Rainsy said, using a word for Vietnamese sometimes considered derogatory.
“Back then, there was no word ‘Vietnamese.’ We only knew the ‘Yuon,’ and we clashed with the Yuon from Annam. So we have suffered and had problems with the Yuon for 400 years,” he said.
“The case cannot just be settled immediately.”