Delegates Return From Disputed ‘White Area’

The situation at the Vietnam­ese border is “more than serious,” as Vietnam continues to hold a 12 km stretch of disputed land between the two countries, the leader of a parliamentary in­vestigative board said Sunday.

Vietnam has displaced hundreds of Cambodian farmers in an area in Svay Rieng province known as “the White Area,” a dis­put­ed zone between the two count­ries, Princess Norodom Vacheara said.

The princess was the leader of a six-member National Assembly delegation that went to the border area last week to investigate al­legations of Vietnamese en­croach­ment.

The controversy could become more serious in the coming months, because the farmers have been prevented from working their land and earning a living, the princess said.

The local government in­formed the Vietnamese ahead of time of the delegation’s visit, to prevent “misunderstandings” by the Vietnamese authorities, Prin­cess Vacheara said.

The delegation is scheduled to present its full report to the Assembly this week and the two sides should “find a diplomatic and political solution,” the prin­cess said.

Several lawmakers went to Svay Rieng last week, depriving par­liament of a sufficient number of members to conduct business. About 40 parliamentarians were absent from Friday’s session, but just six lawmakers were assigned to go to Svay Rieng to investigate the border, according to National Assem­bly Second Vice President Nguon Nhel.

“It was illegal for them to be ab­sent without permission. We will take measures against them according to regulations,” Nation­al Assem­bly First Vice President Heng Sam­rin said.

But Princess Vacheara said that “a lack of quorum for one day is not serious compared to the people’s suffering.”

The delegation scheduled its fact-finding tour after more than 1,000 Svay Rieng farmers march­ed in Phnom Penh in early May, claiming they had been uprooted from their land and demanding government action.

On Friday, Heng Samrin en­dorsed a letter by Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay, in which Son Chhay ask­ed Prime Minister Hun Sen about the status of treaties with Vietnam.

“The government hired a company of Australian lawyers for the border issue with Thailand, but the government didn’t hire such a group of lawyers for border is­sues with Vietnam,” he said.

King Norodom Sihanouk has asked the government to investigate land encroachment by the Thais and Vietnamese and apologized to his subjects that he is not strong enough under the constitution to intervene himself.


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