Vietnam Promises to Back Off Border Areas

In contrast to their last meeting over the border, when Cambodia and Vietnam didn’t manage to release a joint statement, Cambodian officials said on Wednesday that during discussions Vietnam had again agreed not to build or farm in areas that are still in dispute.

Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh on Wednesday met with his Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, and separately with Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

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Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh, center, attends a meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The two sides agreed to work together to prevent citizens from the other country renting land along the border and to stay out of areas that constitute the 16 percent of the shared border that remains undemarcated, Prum Sokha, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said after Mr. Binh Minh’s meeting with Mr. Kheng.

“We will continue cooperation that we agreed to in places where we have not completed demarcation posts,” he said, adding that the two sides would “not do anything” in those areas.

Mr. Sokha said that Vietnam would also help implement a Cambodian government order issued in 2015 banning the leasing of farmland along the border to Vietnamese citizens or business interests.

“The people renting land to the people from the other country has stopped. And both authorities are continuing to cooperate together to do this work more clearly,” he said.

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh attends a meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In a joint statement issued after the meetings, the countries said they were also moving ahead on a special economic zone along the border in Tbong Khmum province and cooperating to prevent the illegal trafficking of wood and wildlife across the border.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said planning was also pressing ahead on a highway linking Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, with an agreement expected to be signed next year.

Since the opposition CNRP launched a campaign in 2015 to highlight Vietnamese incursions on Cambodian land, the government has taken pains to respond, first by sending diplomatic notes to Vietnam to stop the incursions and then by taking legal action against domestic critics of its border work.

Vietnam has variously promised to stay out of so-called “white zones,” but at other times denied infringing upon Cambodian territory or failed to follow through on promises to back off, notably failing to refill irrigation ponds its citizens dug in Ratanakkiri province.

In a particularly embarrasing dispute for the Cambodian government, Vietnam refused to stop building a border guard office in another white zone in Ratanakkiri, despite pleas from Phnom Penh.

Var Kimhong, the minister in charge of border affairs, admitted at the time that Cambodia was ultimately powerless to stop its much larger neighbor.

“Please tell me, if they don’t stop, what can we do?” the minister said in October. “Do you want Cambodia to start a war with Vietnam to stop the construction?”

Opposition leader Kem Sokha has suggested bringing the disputes to international criminal court if Vietnam does not respect the border, though the CNRP has largely gone quiet on the issue amid what is widely seen as a legal and political assault on the party ahead of elections.

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