Armed Vietnamese soldiers on Monday tried to prevent more than 300 people led by CNRP lawmakers from visiting a disputed border area in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district, a lawmaker and a rights worker said.
The group—consisting of five CNRP lawmakers along with students and monks—were visiting the border area after reports surfaced that Vietnamese nationals had planted cassava and dug ponds on Cambodian land, said CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann, who led the group.
“We arrived at the village at about 9:00 [a.m.], then our delegation met a group of about 30 Vietnamese soldiers carrying guns, electric batons [and with] dogs,” Mr. Monyvann said.
He added that members of his group briefly got into a shoving match with the soldiers and claimed he was shocked with an electric baton, but said no one else was injured.
“They repeatedly blocked us from going to see the reported ponds dug by Vietnamese authorities in the ‘white zone,’” he added, referring to the poorly demarcated disputed area.
Local rights group Adhoc originally discovered five ponds and the cassava fields last month, but Mr. Monyvann claimed that once the soldiers allowed his group through Monday, they found more plantations and ponds, which he said were used to irrigate the crops.
“We discovered that seven ponds had been dug and there are dozens of hectares of farmland where coffee, cashews and rubber plantations are planted on the contested area,” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said two scuffles broke out as the Vietnamese soldiers blocked the group when it approached the ponds.
Deputy provincial police chief Heng Ratana, however, disputed the accounts given by Mr. Monyvann and Mr. Thy and said there were no physical altercations, although he said insults were hurled between the soldiers and the group.
“There was an exchange of insults between the Cambodians and Vietnamese soldiers, but the situation eased when a Vietnamese border commander…told their forces to remain calm while our border police and soldiers tried to protect the delegations,” he said.
Asked how provincial officials would settle the dispute, Mr. Ratana said he was still waiting for orders from the Interior Ministry.
“[We] are waiting for the upper-level leaders to meet and solve the issue, then I will follow their command,” he said. “But for prevention, we are able to absolutely prevent further digging of ponds and other activities on the [disputed] borderland.”
Mr. Monyvann, the lawmaker, said he planned to inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of what he found Monday, but did not expect the government to resolve the issue.
“Our government is weak. It’s weak because [Vietnam] can plant crops [on contested area], and we are not able to do anything on the land,” he said.