Rights group Adhoc says it found cassava plantations being worked by undocumented Vietnamese nationals on Cambodia’s side of the two countries’ shared border during a visit to Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district on Monday.
Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said Tuesday that they also found five 5-by-10-meter ponds near plantations, all of them in a poorly demarcated area along the border in Paknhai commune.
“The field investigation was to find out whether or not there was illegal logging by groups of Vietnamese people who cross the border each day, but we ultimately found out there were three irregular activities happening there,” Mr. Thy said.
“Firstly, five ponds were dug by Vietnamese on Cambodia’s soil. Secondly, some border soldiers have rented Cambodian soil for Vietnamese to grow cassava in Cambodia.”
He said they also found undocumented Vietnamese migrants working on the plantations.
District governor Ma Vichet said he organized a separate trip to the border area on the same day but added that he could not determine on which side of the border the ponds were located.
“Since I am not an expert on mapping, I cannot say those ponds were dug by Vietnamese inside Cambodia’s or Vietnam’s land,” he said. “Because the area has not been officially demarcated with border posts yet.”
Mr. Vichet said he had sent a report up the chain of command to ask that experts be dispatched to investigate further.
Deputy provincial police chief Heng Ratana said provincial authorities met Tuesday to discuss the findings and would convene with their counterparts across the border next week.
The discovery of the ponds and plantations along the border comes in the midst of a separate dispute in which Vietnam is claiming 16.6 hectares of land along the border in Tbong Khmum province that has long been farmed by Cambodians.
After a group of six Vietnamese nationals, including three soldiers, sprayed toxic chemicals on crops grown by Cambodian farmers on April 19, opposition CNRP lawmakers sent a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong requesting his intervention.
On May 4, Mr. Namhong responded by saying that the land was in Vietnam. The CNRP and nationalist activists have seized the issue and are pressuring Mr. Namhong to offer a satisfactory explanation for why Cambodia has lost land that its citizens have long farmed.
Mr. Namhong explained in a roundtable discussion, aired on national television last week, that Cambodia had agreed that the land was in Vietnam based on maps that both countries have agreed to use as the foundation of negotiations to demarcate the border.
On Tuesday, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann said he planned to send a letter to Var Kimhong, chairman of Cambodia’s border committee, asking him to provide the map being used in the negotiations in order to prove that the disputed area is in Vietnam.
“Whenever we can have the map Var Kimhong claimed to use as the basis for border demarcation, we can verify with actual border posts whether or not it’s true,” he said.