The Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a strongly worded diplomatic note to Vietnam on Friday asking its eastern neighbor to “respect the borderline” after an inspection by government officials confirmed that Vietnamese authorities dug five ponds within Cambodian territory in Ratanakiri province.
The letter, dated June 12 and circulated to members of the National Assembly as well as being sent to the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, says that an inspection by the Interior Ministry and the Cambodian Joint Border Commission found that the ponds had been “dug deep in Cambodian territory.”
Local rights group Adhoc first brought public attention to the five ponds and nearby cassava plantations in O’Yadaw district last month, leading CNRP lawmakers to take a trip to inspect the alleged incursions. On Monday, armed Vietnamese soldiers tried to stop a group of more than 300 people—including students, monks, and opposition activists—from visiting the disputed area.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry letter states that government officials found five ponds measuring 5 by 13 meters located between border pillars 30 and 40 in Paknhai commune, in a section along the borderline that has not yet been demarcated. According to the letter, the ponds were located between 380 and 545 meters inside Cambodia.
“Based on the map…the ponds were dug deep in Cambodian territory,” it says.
In the letter, the government “demands” that Vietnam respects the map on which border negotiations between the two countries have been based, as well as a January 1995 joint communique in which the governments committed to “educate and prevent their people from carrying out cross border cultivation or settlement and to cooperate in maintaining border security and order.”
The letter notes that in his meeting this week with Vietnamese Communist Party Politburo official Le Hong Anh, Prime Minister Hun Sen “also broached this issue and demanded that ‘pending the demarcation of the border, the areas which have not been demarcated should not be changed.’”
Contacted by telephone Friday, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann, who has been leading opposition delegations on trips to the border, expressed satisfaction over the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s intervention, but added that more should be done to solve the issue.
“Through this letter, it proves that the ponds were dug deep inside Cambodia’s territory, so it’s not enough just giving the note, but the government should organize a nonviolent negotiation with Vietnam to demand the refilling of the ponds, and show they are accountable for the criminal acts of violating Cambodia’s territory,” he said.
Separately, tensions have also been brewing along the border of Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district, where villagers are angry about Vietnam claiming 16.6 hectares of land that they had been farming. In response to a letter from CNRP lawmakers on behalf of the farmers, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said last month that the land was in Vietnam.
On Friday, the Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC) filed petitions with King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, and CNRP President Sam Rainsy, calling for the removal of Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong and border committee chairman Var Kimhong for allegedly failing to protect Cambodia’s territory.
“We filed petitions along with our findings, asking the top leaders to remove them both from their positions because they are incapable of doing their job as they have repeatedly said the contested land is Vietnamese soil, despite it being located in Cambodia’s land,” said Mao Pises, president of Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals, which is a member of the CWC, an umbrella group of nationalist organizations.