Royal Academy of Cambodia scholar Sok Touch said Wednesday that his border research team has started inspecting markers planted along the 1,228-km frontier with Vietnam, visiting six colonial-era posts since last week as part of a process that he says will take two years.
In the wake of a mounting campaign by the opposition CNRP accusing the government of complicity in Vietnamese incursions into Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen last month tasked Mr. Touch with looking into the issue.
“In our 10 days at the border, we have inspected a number of markers planted along the Cambodia-Vietnam border. In particular, we have found at least six border markers planted since the French colonial era,” Mr. Touch said.
“I will find all the border markers planted during the French colonial era as well as the border posts planted so far by the government. But I will not say [whether] the planting was correct or incorrect,” he added.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Touch said he began initial research in May and aims to inspect all 124 posts planted by the French as well as the other 314 posts planted by Mr. Hun Sen’s government.
“We are a group of researchers, so we will compile our findings and show the public, the media and the political parties,” he said, adding that he would present the findings in two years after all of the posts had been inspected.
“Our findings will be like a dissertation. However, a dissertation at a university is shown to a committee to evaluate whether or not the thesis is acceptable and has enough evidence, while my dissertation will be evaluated by the public, the media, the government as well as the political parties,” Mr. Touch said.
“The public can contest my finding, and I will give them back the evidence I gathered. For those who claim that this or that area has lost land, they also can submit their evidence and we will discuss it more.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he believed Mr. Touch’s findings would be credible, despite the researcher’s refusal to allow CPP or CNRP lawmakers to accompany him on trips over the next two years.
“If the Royal Academy finds some irregularities, they have the right to file those irregularities to the government, and the mixed border committee, and that committee can scrutinize if it was real or not,” Mr. Siphan said.
“The National Assembly would supervise that one. But the project is ongoing right now, with the Royal Academy working on it based only on science, not politics.”
Mr. Siphan added that it would be natural for some people not to accept the results of Mr. Touch’s research.
“How many people support Barack Obama, the president of the United States? Not everyone supports him,” he said. “For the government, we will see the results of his research, but we do not have to accept them.”
In a three-hour speech on the border issue on Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen said he was an early fan of the research of Mr. Touch, who has sided with the government against CNRP claims that incorrect maps have been used in demarcation.
“I have awesome words for His Excellency Sok Touch, who has worked on the maps independently and transparently,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “The government encourages this research.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment on whether the party would accept the findings.
“There has [been] a lot of negative response to what he is doing from the people and observers, so we want to make no comment,” he said.