Officials with three government ministries are suggesting that financing be put in place to encourage Cambodian citizens to move to border areas to help the country maintain its territorial claims.
A number of officials at the ministries of Defense, Interior and Rural Development agree on the topic, and they also all agree that it is the government’s responsibility to make the areas attractive to prospective residents.
“This project should be for border protection, but it should also be for eliminating countryside poverty and rural road construction,” said Ly Thuch, secretary of state for the Rural Development Ministry.
The areas being considered include Poipet, Anlong Veng, Pailin, Samlot, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Stung Treng. It isn’t clear how the project would be funded.
Three-star General Chhum Chheang, speaking earlier this month in Oddar Meanchey, offered his support for the program.
He noted that military engineers have actively been constructing roads into border areas which remained undeveloped due to fighting over the last couple of decades between government and Khmer Rouge forces.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the initiative is long overdue.
“During the war [years], each side ran to ask support from their neighbors to assist refugees fighting with each other, “ she said. “So anyone could do whatever they wanted along the border.
“But now the areas along the border are safe. Travelers can go through day and night,” she said. “If there is good infrastructure, people will go settle there by themselves. There’s no need to promote them if there are schools, markets, hospitals, pagodas and security. It’s like the old slogan: When the water is cool, fish flock together.”
Ok Serei Sopheak, director of the Cambodian Center for Conflict Resolution, said a civilian population discourages border incidents.
“We have given ideas to the Ministry of Rural Development about this issue,” he said. “If there is any development, people will race to move onto the land. And if there are roads, schools, houses and buildings, intruders won’t dare come in.”
In a report last December, Ok Serei Sopheak also warned more needs to be done by the government to integrate former Khmer Rouge into Cambodia society at large.
Ly Thuch pointed to the work the UN World Food Program and such NGOs as the Norwegian People’s Aid have done to make the border areas more livable.
But everyone admits more government funding is needed.
“We want people living in prosperity,” said Yim Chhay Ly, secretary of state for Rural Development. “But until we have roads and other improvements, it is impossible for us to progress.”