Foreign Minister Hits Back Over Border Dispute

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday hit back at claims he is serving the Vietnamese government by siding with it—and not a group of Cambodian villagers—in a dispute over which country owns 16.6 hectares of land along the border of Tbong Khmum province.

In a 40-minute “roundtable” discussion broadcast last night on BTV, a station controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana, the foreign minister rebuked a campaign led by opposition CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann to chastise him for agreeing with Vietnam that the land is not in Cambodia.

Mr. Namhong said that the 16.6 hectares of land, between border markers number 94 and 95 in Memot district, had long been part of a 100-hectare plot of Vietnamese land that the Cambodian government requested in 2011 after noticing that it was being farmed exclusively by Cambodians.

“Our Border Affairs Committee marked the border markers 94 and 95 in Memot district, but then saw our people farming 100 hectares of land outside the borderline on the 1:100,000 map,” Mr. Namhong said, referring to an official 1964 map that serves as the basis of today’s borders.

Mr. Namhong said that Va Kimhong, chairman of Cambodia’s border committee, then entered into negotiations with Vietnam that led them to give up most of the 100 hectares to Cambodia—except for the 16.6 now in dispute.

The foreign minister said he was simply trying to communicate that fact in a letter—now at the center of the controversy—that he sent in reply to an official inquiry into the dispute sent by Mr. Monyvann late last month.

“Recently, Mr. Kimhong noticed that our people were still farming 16.6 more hectares of land into the Vietnamese side, so I replied back to the lawmakers as such,” he said.

“If the CNRP respected the culture of dialogue, after they got my letter, and if they did not agree or were suspicious about some points, they could have asked me or Var Kimhong. We would tell them clearly, based on the map,” he said. “It’s better than going to incite the people.”

Cambodian farmers in Memot district’s Choam commune, which abuts the Vietnamese border, last month enlisted the help of Mr. Monyvann after six Vietnamese nationals, including three soldiers, sprayed toxic chemicals on their crops on April 19.

Mr. Monyvann then wrote to Mr. Namhong requesting clarification over the issue. On May 4, Mr. Namhong wrote to National Assembly President Heng Samrin saying that the land has been accepted as Vietnam’s since 2011.

But the response only drew further rebuke from Mr. Monyvann —who is attempting to summon Mr. Namhong before a full plenary session of the National Assembly —and other activists, some who visited the disputed site on Sunday.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, who organized Thursday’s program, said it was meant to counter the recent campaign led by opposition activists.

“We have to educate our public about the issue—the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, and how it was demarcated and the politics around it. A number of CNRP parliamentarians have given false statements on this,” he said.

“A number of people have accused the government of going along with Vietnam and ignoring Cambodia’s interests, and that is why we have explained point by point how the border poles were negotiated.”

Mr. Siphan said that if any opposition lawmakers or activists have maps that show the 16.6-hectare plot historically belonged to Cambodia, they should provide them to the government to negotiate the border with Vietnam.

Opposition politicians and activists have long accused the CPP government of being too ready to cede sovereign territory to Vietnam, which installed many of the current leaders after the overthrow of Pol Pot in January 1979.

Yet the issue has been complicated by vague borders and other cartographical errors present in the maps produced by the French colonial administration and later regimes.

Mr. Monyvann, who has said he would support protests calling for Mr. Namhong to stand down over his stance on the 16.6 hectares, acknowledged that the 1:100,000-scale map was the map mandated for use under the Constitution, but disputed Mr. Namhong’s claims about what it shows.

“The government has said that they have used the 1:1,000 map of Indochina. They say that, but they have never shown us that in public,” he said. “We want the government to announce which map and which number they have used, and then we will compare it to the one kept in France.”

Mao Pises, the president of the opposition-aligned Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students who led activists to Tbong Khmum province on Sunday, said he also rejected Mr. Namhong’s account.

“I totally cannot accept his claims,” Mr. Pises said.

“If he’s talking on the basis of the supplemental treaty signed in 2005, then we totally reject that, as that treaty contradicts Article 55 of our Constitution,” which protects the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said.

“He can’t speak based on that treaty, or any treaties signed in the 1980s,” Mr. Pises added. “Those treaties were not legal, because during the 1980s Cambodia was under the influence of the Vietnamese, so any treaty signed within that period we cannot accept.”

(Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)

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