Takeo provincial governor Lay Vannak on Wednesday threatened to arrest anyone who claims that officials surrendered to Vietnam two of the boulders that constitute the historic “Three Rocks Village” on the eastern border of Borei Cholsar district.
At a meeting at the provincial hall to review work done in 2015, Mr. Vannak acknowledged the area of the boulders, which measure about 4 meters in diameter each, falls inside Vietnam, according to border maps, but said the government was working to reclaim it.
“The national border committee is now negotiating with Vietnam to bring it back into Cambodia for our many people who live in that area,” Mr. Vannak said by telephone after the meeting, recounting his message to officials.
Under Cambodia’s border treaties with Vietnam, areas of land heavily populated by one nation’s citizens but which fall in the other country’s territory on official border maps can be swapped during demarcation talks.
“During our government’s negotiations, some people from the opposition made turmoil with Vietnam a month ago, and I cannot let this disorder go on and impact the countries on both sides,” Mr. Vannak said.
“I appealed to all police and authorities to arrest them,” he said of those claiming the loss of the rocks.
Last month, a reporter from Radio Free Asia (RFA) and a group of youth activists led by Kem Ley, the founder of the “Khmer for Khmer” advocacy group, traveled to the riverine Three Rocks Village area by speedboat.
The RFA report, citing local Cambodian villagers, said Vietnamese farmers had farmed closer and closer to the Three Rocks Village over the years until part of the land was finally claimed by Vietnamese authorities in December.
The story was corroborated on Wednesday by Nak Sokroeun, the CPP chief of Kompong Krasaing commune, where the three rocks lie. He said that the area had long been Cambodian territory, until the encroachments began.
“As of now, two rocks have already shifted into Vietnam’s border area, and they control them,” he said.
Mr. Vannak, the governor, could not be reached to respond to the commune chief’s claims. Yet Mr. Ley of “Khmer for Khmer” said it was clear that the Three Rocks Village had been surrendered to Vietnam.
“On the Cambodian side of the border, the police said do not let us take photo because they were afraid of Vietnamese military warning—even 1 km from the border, when we were only sitting on logs,” Mr. Ley said.
CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanroth, who represents Takeo, said that he visited the area three months ago and learned part of the Three Rocks Village had been cut into Vietnamese territory, adding that he was not scared of Mr. Vannak’s arrest threat.
“Where is the law to arrest a lawmaker when they go down there to check the border?” he asked. “I’m a lawmaker for Takeo, can’t I do my job?”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)