Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive on Thursday for the formation of an ad hoc committee of government officials to review maps loaned to Cambodia by the U.N. in order to check them against maps being used by “concerned parties.”
The directive comes amid a campaign by the opposition CNRP to reveal Vietnamese incursions into Cambodia and discredit the government’s work with Vietnam to demarcate the shared border. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has said that the sudden conviction of 11 CNRP activists on insurrection charges last month was a warning for the party to halt its trips to disputed border areas.
In response to a request for an original copy of the constitutionally mandated French-drawn map, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to Mr. Hun Sen on Wednesday informing him that the U.N. did not have the requested map, but would give Cambodia other maps that “may be of interest to your Government.”
“While the United Nations Dar Hammarskjold Library does not, as a matter of policy, loan maps in its keeping…it has been agreed that the library would, on an exceptional basis, loan the aforementioned maps to your Government for a limited period of time,” Mr. Ban wrote.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said on Friday that the map being loaned to Cambodia was initially deposited with the U.N. by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk as part of a complaint regarding U.S. bombing and South Vietnamese violations of Cambodian territory.
“What we found out is that the U.N. gave us a map lodged in a complaint of the first kingdom against U.S. bombardments and Vietnamese incursions,” he said.
Mr. Siphan declined to say when the map was initially deposited with the U.N. In 1964, however, Cambodia submitted a complaint to the U.N. regarding U.S. and South Vietnamese violations of its territory and airspace during the Second Indochina War.
In a letter thanking the U.N. for providing the map, Mr. Hun Sen said it would be helpful “in avoiding and ending incitement of nationalist extremists.”
In his directive issued Thursday, Mr. Hun Sen said the committee created to study the U.N. maps would be headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong and composed of 10 other members including Var Kimhong, the minister in charge of border affairs, and representatives of relevant ministries.
Article 3 of the directive states that the commission must “manage, facilitate, collect and verify the maps with participation from concerned parties such as representatives from political parties with seats in the Senate and the National Assembly, the Royal Academy of Cambodia, and local and international map experts.”
On Thursday, the government also gave its own border maps to Sok Touch, a prominent political analyst and head of the international relations institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia who is conducting border research for the government.
Mr. Touch said yesterday that he had proposed creating a border research group at the Royal Academy in an effort to depoliticize the issue, which has long been one of the opposition’s main grievances against the government. He said that Mr. Rainsy had agreed to give him copies of the opposition party’s maps on Monday.
“The main issue is that there have been different opinions from NGOs, the CNRP and the CPP about the border issue, and this is creating a crack within Cambodian society,” Mr. Touch said.
“That is why our group is conducting research to make written findings based on the law,” he said, adding that he had also collected maps from the U.N., libraries in Paris, and the U.S. Library of Congress.
“We hope the politicians will stop using the country’s life for political gain, because they should be working to develop the country, not using the border issue for personal and party interests,” he said.
Um Sam An, an opposition lawmaker at the fore of the party’s border campaign, said that the new committee to review the U.N.’s maps, comprised only of government officials, was unacceptable.
“We want the government to form a committee with representatives from the CNRP, NGOs and especially U.N. border experts to verify the maps, as they were sent by the U.N.,” he said.
Mr. Sam An added that he did not believe that the results of the research being done at the Royal Academy, a state institution, would be truly independent.
“The Royal Academy research group headed by Dr. Sok Touch is better than the [government’s] border committee chaired by Var Kimhong,” he said. “But I believe there will be a bias toward the government.”