Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Thursday that the CNRP wants a controversial 2005 border treaty with Vietnam to be re-examined by the National Assembly, with the possibility left open to “renegotiate it from the beginning.”
The supplemental border treaty was fiercely opposed by the opposition at the time of its passage in 2005, with criticism of the deal leading to the jailing of four opposition figures and threats from Prime Minister Hun Sen to dissolve the monarchy.
A decade on, Mr. Rainsy said that some aspects of the treaty have not been properly implemented, especially those intended to protect existing communities in disputed areas by allowing officials to draw the border around them.
“As one example, in the provisions of the treaties delineating the border, it says the border should ‘see-saw,’ and go up-and-down, up-and-down, to avoid the controversial points where there are Cambodian villages, and be flexible in order not to hurt the local population,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“Yet the way they have drawn the border, they have cut out Cambodian villages [into Vietnamese territory], which is against the spirit of the treaty, which is why we have to examine the treaty carefully again to see why these provisions have not been implemented properly.”
“This is what opposition [lawmakers] have been doing, exposing what has not been followed in the treaty,” Mr. Rainsy said of recent trips to disputed border areas by opposition lawmakers led by Mao Monyvann and Um Sam An.
Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP would seek an examination into whether proper implementation of the treaty with Vietnam might prevent Cambodian communities from losing land, before seeking to change the treaty itself.
“If there is no way to fix it, we have to renegotiate it from the beginning,” Mr. Rainsy said of the treaty, declining to provide a timeframe for when such a move could occur.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the ruling party might support an effort to amend the 2005 supplemental treaty if Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy worked out an agreement as part of the “culture of dialogue.”
“It’s up to the leaders,” Mr. Eysan said of any renegotiations. “On the matter of doing investigations…he can go monitor, which means he can go and verify whether or not the post markers are placed correctly for the border.”
However, Mr. Eysan rejected Mr. Rainsy’s claim that Cambodian and Vietnamese officials have failed to flexibly delineate borders around existing communities of their nationals since the 2005 supplemental treaty was approved.
“To maintain the benefits of our people, the two parties signed an agreement to swap 2,000 hectares of [Cambodian-occupied] land protruding into Vietnam with just 1,000 hectares of their land protruding into ours,” Mr. Eysan explained. “Such swapping has still not reached its end.”
“It’s not only the other political parties who love the land; rather, the CPP loves and cares for the land more than the other political parties,” he added.
Var Kimhong, Cambodian chairman of the joint border committee with Vietnam, said the issue is more complex than suggested by Mr. Rainsy. He said border officials take into account both the actual occupation of land by communities and the constraints of official maps.
“I cannot talk about this in only one or two minutes. Regarding the border issue, we act based on the local law, international laws, maps and on the principle of an unchangeable border line,” Mr. Kimhong said. “For the obvious occupation [of land by Cambodians], that’s the next priority.”
The controversial 2005 border treaty supplemented a 1985 treaty with Vietnam signed under the post-Pol Pot Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, an agreement that King Norodom Sihanouk and many in the political opposition long argued lacked legal legitimacy as a consequence.
During debate over the supplemental treaty in October 2005, King Sihanouk, only months after he abdicated the throne, described the 1985 treaty as “absolutely illegal and contrary to the Paris Accords about Cambodia” and criticized the CPP government’s efforts to build upon it.
His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, subsequently appeared to demur when required to sign the new treaty into law, leading to threats from Mr. Hun Sen to abolish the monarchy.
“I said to Prince [Norodom] Ranariddh by phone that if it is hard to get the signature this time, we must review, should we keep the monarchy or form a republic?” Mr. Hun Sen said in October 2005. “If the king would not sign, he should give reasons. Why do we keep the monarchy?”
While details of the supplemental treaty were not revealed publicly until the CPP-led National Assembly approved the law in November 2005, a slew of opposition-aligned activists were imprisoned for criticizing the treaty following defamation lawsuits filed by Mr. Hun Sen.
Those imprisoned for their criticism of the deal were Mr. Kem Sokha, now the deputy CNRP leader, union leader Rong Chhun, now a National Election Committee member, Pa Nguon Teang, now head of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, and the independent radio station owner Mam Sonando.
All rejected the supplemental treaty and accused Mr. Hun Sen of using it to cede sovereign Cambodian territory along the border to Vietnam, a claim Mr. Hun Sen rejected.
Mr. Rainsy said Thursday he thought that political relations between the government and opposition were now more constructive and praised Mr. Hun Sen for asking a Vietnamese Politburo official earlier this week to exercise restraint when CNRP activists go on missions to the border.
“We consider that the government is more tolerant in allowing us to go see the border, and we consider as a positive development that Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked a high-ranking official from Vietnam to remain calm and not use violence against the opposition’s activists,” he said.