Prime Minister Hun Sen made another pitch Tuesday for Cambodia’s uncertain entry into Asean, saying that the regional group’s help is needed to resolve ongoing land and sea border disputes with Asean countries.
“These complicated problems could become easier as soon as we enter Asean as a full member, like Vietnam and Laos,” the newly sworn-in prime minister told dozens of Foreign Affairs officials at a ceremony handing the ministry over to the new administration.
“That would give much more comfort to this kind of negotiation and dialogue.”
Hun Sen said he hopes border disputes can be solved during the new administration’s five-year tenure.
“It is a good time for us to make an active negotiations to work this out…because in years past we have collected documents and held talks with Vietnam and Laos by a technical working team,” Hun Sen said, referring to a commission appointed in 1995 to look into border issues.
Asean has given contradictory signals on whether Cambodia can be admitted during the regional grouping’s summit in Hanoi later this month. Some Asean officials have indicated that formation of a legitimate government is sufficient for admission, while others have been more cautious.
Cambodia’s border disputes with neighboring Vietnam and Thailand date back more than a century.
Confusion over the border with Vietnam, for instance, stretches back to 1887 when the French merged the protectorates of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam into French Indochina.
Vietnam and Cambodia signed a treaty in 1985 defining their land border, but disagreements remain because each side referred to a different map during negotiations, experts have said.
Furthermore, maritime borders with Thailand and Vietnam are also disputed, preventing the Cambodian government from moving ahead with oil and gas exploration contracts worth millions of dollars without Thai permission.
Hun Sen noted that political parties during the election run-up exploited the issue of Vietnam allegedly encroaching on Cambodian territory.
Opposition parties in particular blamed the loss of territory on Hun Sen and the CPP, warning farmers in Cambodia’s southeastern provinces that they risked the loss of their land if they returned the CPP to power in July’s election.
“I don’t want this issue to reoccur during the next campaign just so a political party can make a political gain out of it,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen served as both foreign minister and prime minister at various times during the Hanoi-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea government from 1979 to 1989.
The CPP is often accused by nationalist opposition politicians of retaining untoward links with the Vietnamese government.