Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday wrote to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, asking to borrow the official map of Cambodia’s eastern border with Vietnam, a move that opposition leader Sam Rainsy described as an admission that the government has been improperly demarcating the border.
Mr. Hun Sen’s government has for more than a month defied an intense campaign by Mr. Rainsy’s CNRP for it to release a copy of the map it uses to demarcate the border with Vietnam, leading to accusations that it has not been following the French-drawn map mandated by the 1993 Constitution.
In his letter to Mr. Ban, Mr. Hun Sen asked for a copy of that map, which was drawn up by France’s Indochina Geographical Service during the colonial period and later lodged with the U.N. in 1964 by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
“I would like to request that your excellency, the secretary general, allow the Cambodian government to borrow all the original maps Cambodia has kept at the U.N. to verify the authenticity of the maps the Cambodian government has used, and is using, in the delimitation of the land and maritime borders between Cambodia and neighboring countries,” he wrote.
The original maps, Mr. Hun Sen wrote, would “clearly confirm the scrupulousness and correctness of the Cambodian government’s…delimitation and demarcation of the border” and end a recent campaign by Mr. Rainsy’s opposition that accuses the government of following Vietnamese-drawn maps.
“[This request] also has the objective to avoid and end the incitement of extreme nationalism by some quarters in Cambodia to create confusion among the national and international public to make political gains, which could create a catastrophe for the whole Cambodian nation,” he wrote.
Since last month, the CNRP has led a series of trips to highlight alleged Vietnamese encroachments into five different provinces in Cambodia, twice leading to clashes as activists disputed territorial sovereignty with Vietnamese civilians.
The campaign has been coupled with an effort to force Mr. Hun Sen’s government to publicly release the official border map, which would allow CNRP activists to verify whether the government has been planting border posts in the right places.
Mr. Rainsy said Monday that Mr. Hun Sen’s request to the U.N. proved that the government did not in fact have the proper map upon which to base demarcation.
“It is proof the current Cambodian government, the Hun Sen government, has never had that map deposited at the U.N., which is constitutionally mandated to be used as the basis to delineate the border,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“This means that what they have been doing with demarcation of the border with Vietnam is not in line with the Constitution and was not based on the map deposited at the U.N.,” he added. “This could have far-reaching implications.”
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Mr. Hun Sen was simply requesting the map in order to have tangible proof that the maps that it uses to demarcate the border—but has refused to release publicly—are copies of the one at the U.N.
“When he accuses the government of using a fake map against the Constitution, he is wrong. If that was the case, the government would not request original copies for verification,” he said. “Will [Mr. Rainsy] be responsible before the law for giving failed accusations the government uses fake maps?”
Yet Mr. Eysan added that even if the maps at the U.N. are provided to the government, it still had no plans to give copies to Mr. Rainsy to allow the opposition to verify whether border posts have been placed according to the constitutional map.
“This is nothing involving the CNRP but it is the business of the government’s Joint Border Committee to openly display [the map] to the public,” he said. “There is no need to give it to the CNRP, as the government would be borrowing it from the U.N. and would need to ensure the map’s safety.”
Var Kimhong, the government minister in charge of the Joint Border Committee, held a press conference last week to display the government’s various border maps in an effort to stave off the CNRP’s claims it is using Vietnamese maps.
However, the brief display, and Mr. Kimhong’s continued refusal to publicly release copies of the maps, has only led to more strident claims that the government’s maps were in fact drawn under Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s.
Kem Ley, a political analyst who founded the “Khmer for Khmer” advocacy group last year, said the government should have asked for its own copies of the U.N. map 20 years ago and is now scrambling against the CNRP’s campaign.
“The construction of the border has been completed about 80 percent already—whether they’re using the real map or a fake map—and only now do they request the real map from the U.N., as it is almost finished,” Mr. Ley said.
“This is to ease the tension…but it is impossible. Everybody now has concerns about the invasions. The government cannot stop a people’s movement, but the tactic of Hun Sen is to postpone the issue and then find a strategy to crack down.”