Presenting the initial findings of months of research trips along Cambodia’s eastern border, academic Sok Touch said on Thursday that a stretch of land in Tbong Khmum province had been occupied by Vietnam due to border posts being misplaced during the French colonial era.
Mr. Touch told a press conference at the Royal Academy of Cambodia that swaths of land in the border province had long been controlled by Vietnam despite falling inside Cambodian territory, according to constitutionally mandated maps he is using in his research.
“The land belongs to Cambodia. But I asked people around there, and they told me that Vietnamese people have cultivated rubber plantations and cassava on the land for a long time,” he said.
Amid an opposition campaign in mid-2015 accusing the CPP of ceding land to Vietnam, the government tasked Mr. Touch, a scholar at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, with leading a group of researchers in conducting an investigation into the placement of border posts.
The academic said the group’s initial findings showed that Vietnam had not been a fair partner in bilateral efforts to demarcate the 1,270 km of shared border.
“Vietnam did not respect the agreement between the two countries,” Mr. Touch said, noting an episode last year in which Vietnamese citizens and soldiers sprayed toxic chemicals on crops grown by Cambodian farmers near Tbong Khmum’s Memot district.
“Why—when Cambodian farmers were doing cultivation—did they spray chemicals to kill the plantation?” he said. “Vietnam has been cultivating on thousands of hectares in Cambodia, but Cambodian farmers never spray chemicals to kill the Vietnamese plantations.”
Mr. Touch said that five posts along the border in Tbong Khmum—numbered 94, 95, 106, 107 and 108—were misplaced, with some planted up to 150 meters inside Cambodia, effectively ceding about 100 hectares of territory.
The vast majority of the posts along the 500 km of border he visited, however, were within a few meters of their proper location, he explained, adding that his team’s research would be finished next year, with a book on its findings to be published by 2018.
Mr. Touch criticized the opposition CNRP for failing to give him two missing pieces of the 26-part border map that they believe is correct, preventing him from doing a full comparative analysis.
“The opposition party created problems because they affirmed that they had the correct maps but only gave us 24 maps,” he said, adding that he was prepared to defend himself against claims by opposition lawmaker Um Sam An that his research was inaccurate.
“If my bet is wrong, I dare to bet my life. But if he loses, I only demand a bottle of wine,” Mr. Touch said.
The academic also noted that the research had not been without its travails.
“A colleague on my researching team almost drowned in the river and I suddenly went to save him, and we nearly died together at that time,” he said.
Var Kimhong, chairman of the government’s border affairs committee, declined to comment on Mr. Touch’s findings regarding border posts being placed well inside Cambodian land.
“I dare not to conclude that this is wrong because we need to clearly see the posts on the land,” he said.
Son Chhay, a senior opposition lawmaker, said he did not believe Mr. Touch was the right person to be carrying out the research in the first place.
“I don’t think Sok Touch has any education—any real knowledge—in how to work on the border issue,” he said. “Maybe Cambodia needs to bring in international experts to help sort this out.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)
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