With Maps, Border Tension Defused—For Now

At the height of the CNRP’s campaign to draw attention to illegal Vietnamese incursions into Cambodia, the opposition party in June shifted its offensive toward an old claim—that the government has been complicit in planting border markers well inside Cambodian territory.

With the government on its back foot and forced to send its old Vietnamese benefactors unprecedented missives protesting each uncovered incursion, the CNRP demanded access to the government’s official border maps so it could verify that markers had been correctly placed.

–News Analysis

The government refused.

CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann, one of the leaders of the border campaign, taunted the minister in charge of border affairs, Var Kimhong, suggesting he might be trying to hide the fact that the government was using illegal Vietnamese-drawn maps instead of the ones mandated by the Constitution.

“If he does not reveal [the official border maps], it means that whatever they have done with the posting of the border markers has been in secret. Some have the opinion that he has posted the border markers without using the 1:100,000-scale map kept at the U.N.,” Mr. Molyvann said on June 18.

On July 2, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that only the release of the maps used by the government would allow the public to “clarify if their maps are fakes.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon four days later asking for the maps that the Constitution says are stored there, in order “to verify the authenticity of the maps the Cambodian government has used.”

With Mr. Ban replying that the U.N. did not have those maps but would send others—and Mr. Hun Sen writing to the U.S., U.K. and France requesting even more maps—the opposition’s campaign against border incursions was reshaped.

Mr. Hun Sen’s map requests derailed a highly effective CNRP campaign against sensitive incursions and transformed it into an esoteric debate on maps, said Kimsour Phirith, a CNRP lawmaker who has been involved in the opposition’s border efforts.

“On the maps, we are not so concerned. We never said it is definitely a fake map,” Mr. Phirith said. “We are concerned about the demarcation along the border because we were trying to see if [the posts] are on the right points on the map or not.”

“The CNRP is concerned about this matter because most people living alongside the Cambodian-Vietnamese border have complained to members of parliament about losing land they used to cultivate—through demarcation,” he said.

“I would still like to demand the government open up secrecy on the demarcation along the Vietnamese border. This is what we are concerned about: It is the land, not the maps.”

Yet with the map debate ongoing, opposition lawmakers have not led a trip to uncover Vietnamese incursions in more than a month, while the CPP government has accordingly ceased sending diplomatic missives to Vietnam.

With Mr. Rainsy promising earlier this month not to “poke” the government over the border issue, and the prime minister threatening legal action against those who claim the government is using “fake” maps, the spotlight on intrusions has faded.

CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An, another mainstay of the border trips, said that verifying whether the government’s maps are those specified in the Constitution remains the most pressing task.

“We also want to go to the United Nations library to find the reason the maps deposited at the United Nations have been lost or have not been found,” Mr. Sam An said.

“We, of course, still have plans to visit the border.”

Ou Virak, a political analyst and founder of the Future Forum think tank, said the government’s moves to draw attention away from Vietnamese border incursions instead of trying to end them would ultimately prove unwise.

“The CNRP are not abandoning this. They’re putting it on hold—they will come back to demarcation and many people will still be critical of the government’s decisions,” Mr. Virak said.

“If you are not allowed to discuss this, they are leaving a lot to whispers and conspiracy theories. I am sure the CNRP will return to [finding incursions] and benefit from it.”

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