Authorities in Tbong Khmum province on Thursday told villagers to stop farming a piece of land in Memot district after Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said that the 16.6-hectare plot belonged to Vietnam, an official said.
Provincial police chief Mao Pov said police and local government officials had begun informing residents of Choam commune—who claim their crops were destroyed by a group of Vietnamese nationals last month—that the contested land was not on Cambodian territory, and would continue to do so.
“Previously people were confused about the land, thinking it was situated inside Cambodia. But now it’s pretty clear that the farmland is located on Vietnamese soil,” he said.
The campaign to “educate” the villagers follows a letter that Mr. Namhong sent to National Assembly President Heng Samrin in response to a request from opposition CNRP lawmakers for the foreign minister’s intervention in the dispute. In his letter, Mr. Namhong said the farmers’ crops had crossed over a border marker that was modified as part of a 2011 memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Upset with the letter, the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students put out a statement urging the prime minister to fire Mr. Namhong.
“The Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students would like to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to remove head diplomat Hor Namhong from his position because [he] acted in contradiction to the Constitution,” the statement says.
Despite the warnings from local police and officials, Ky Tet, a farmer who said his crops were among those destroyed with chemicals on April 19, remained defiant.
“Authorities cannot stop villagers from going to our farmland because we rely on it,” Mr. Tet said, adding that it was “impossible” the land he has been farming since the fall of the Khmer Rouge actually belongs to Vietnam.
“If I were young, I could find a job at a garment factory. But I’m about 50 years old, so I have to rely on farming here,” he said.