A conference on Cambodia’s border problems was canceled by the Hotel Cambodiana late Tuesday after the Council of Ministers sent a letter to the hotel saying they had denied a France-based organization permission to hold the meeting.
“I regret to inform you that due to clear written instructions by the State Minister in charge of the Council of Ministers we have to cancel your event,” the letter from Robert Maurer-Loeffler, Hotel Cambodiana’s director of food and beverage, to a Cambodia Borders Committee delegate stated.
Khieu Thavika, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Wednesday the conference was not allowed to open was because the group’s invitation listed government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, as speakers without their knowledge.
“This is quite wrong with the legal procedure,” he said.
He also said the committee’s name is too similar to the government’s official commission that oversees border disputes. The conference could hurt the government’s negotiations with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, he said.
The Council of Ministers told the group Monday they could not hold the conference. On Tuesday, members of the committee met at the National Assembly with Princess Norodom Vacheahra and other legislators who sit on the assembly’s commission that handles border affairs.
At 8 am Wednesday—the time the day-long conference was to have begun at the hotel—committee delegates from Cambodia and abroad, opposition party legislators and members of the Student’s Movement for Democracy held an impromptu press conference on the steps of the hotel.
“This is a matter not only in the interest of Cambodia, but also an expression of freedom and democracy,” said Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council. “The government has forbidden people to express themselves….This is shameful.”
Mu Sanrin Son, one of 12 expatriate Cambodians who came from overseas for the conference, said the committee does not want to disturb the government. “We want to get a resolution,” Mu Sanrin Son, a Canadian-Cambodian said. Khieu Thavika said if committee delegates want to “share ideas with the government, they should send their written documents to the government and the prime minister.”
But Um Sam An, secretary-general of the Student’s Movement for Democracy, said the government simply doesn’t want criticism on the border issue. He said the conference would have discussed agreements made with Vietnam during the 1980s, when Hun Sen was foreign minister of the Hanoi-backed government.
“The conference affects Hun Sen,” he said. “Therefore he must stop it.”
A booklet handed out by members of the committee cites the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which states that Cambodia undertakes “to terminate treaties and agreements that are incompatible with her sovereignty, her territorial integrity and inviolability.” Therefore, the committee argues in the booklet, the treaties signed with Vietnam in 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1985 should be declared null and void because they enabled Vietnam to claim Cambodian territory.
Last week, a separate organization, the Khmer Borders Protection Organization, asked King Norodom Sihanouk to intervene in what they said were numerous border encroachments. The King then sent a letter to Hun Sen asking him “to examine and help maintain the territorial integrity of our motherland.”
But Wednesday, Hun Sen said he had not seen the King’s letter.
“I don’t know where that letter went,” he said. “I don’t know whether this letter was sent to me or to the newspapers. I saw what the newspapers wrote…so now I am looking for this letter.”
He also said that peaceful negotiating with neighboring countries over border disputes is a thousand times cheaper than fighting.
Earlier this week, the premier and visiting Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra agreed to resolve their two countries border problems within their terms of office.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)