Interior Minister Says Borderland Leases a Sovereign Concern

Interior Minister Sar Kheng has ordered the governors of all provinces bordering Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to report back with information about villagers renting farmland along the border to people from the neighboring countries, citing concerns over losing territory.

A letter signed by Mr. Kheng on October 9 and obtained Tuesday said that the Interior Ministry has grown concerned about Cambodian citizens renting their land to foreigners along the border and later losing access to it.

“In some cases, the leases do not properly prepare the legal documents or lease contracts in compliance with the law, and this is making Cambodian landlords lose their benefits when disputes arise,” Mr. Kheng wrote.

“For some areas along the border that have not officially and completely been demarcated and planted with border posts, borderline leases between Cambodians and people from neighboring countries have created complexities for the Joint Border Committee in doing its work.”

In order “to protect territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Mr. Kheng continued, the governors of the border provinces must collect information about such practices in their jurisdictions and report to the ministry by next month.

Seventeen of Cambodia’s 24 provinces share borders with Thailand, Vietnam or Laos. Most of their governors could not be reached. Kratie governor Sar Chamrong and Battambang governor Chan Kosal both declined to comment.

Sry Rin, an opposition CNRP councilor for Prek Chrey commune in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, which borders Vietnam, estimated that about 150 hectares of border farmland are being rented to Vietnamese in his commune alone.

“The leases are basically never going through the authorities, meaning the landlords just make a verbal contract with farmers,” Mr. Rin explained. “For those who have 1 hectare or more, they make contracts with the acknowledgement of the level of the village chiefs only.”

A dispute over the Vietnamese border has flared this year as the CNRP has accused the CPP of being responsible for loss of land.

The CPP has attempted to extinguish the issue, and villagers contacted Tuesday said they have in fact already been ordered to stop leasing border land to foreign nationals.

“Villagers have been informed that the authorities will not allow us to rent our farmland to Vietnamese farmers effective from next year,” said Him Hem, a 33-year-old from Prek Chrey commune, who rents border land to Vietnamese.

Mr. Hem said that it makes economic sense for him to lease farmland to Vietnamese, because he makes more in rental fees than he would be able to make if he grew and sold the rice himself.

“The reason I lease my small piece of farmland to Vietnamese is because we do not have the skills to produce a high quantity of rice, while the Vietnamese farmers are skillful in doing rice farming,” he said.

He said Cambodian farmers could lease land for an annual payment of 1 to 2 million riel (about $250 to $500) per hectare to Vietnamese farmers.

“Cambodian farmers always lose by farming for ourselves, and some other families don’t have enough family members to help them because their children have migrated to work abroad, so we lease land to Vietnamese farmers.”

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