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Border scuffle

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Vietnamese soldiers confront a delegation led by members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party trying to visit a controversial border marker yesterday.

A group of 18 opposition Sam Rainsy Party officials said yesterday that Vietnamese border police crossed onto Cambodian land and forcefully prevented them from visiting a border demarcation post.

The SRP officials said a brief scuffle broke out when 12 Vietnamese police officials intercepted the delegation in Kampong Cham province’s Memot district, about 100 metres from demarcation post 103.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who led the delegation of opposition officials, said the interception likely indicated that the demarcation post had been planted inside the Cambodian border.

“We are worried about how that demarcation post was planted ... we regret that we cannot reach there,” he said.

“If Vietnam does not allow us to visit, it is more and more suspect.”

He said that officials had already visited border demarcation posts 108 and 109, which he claimed had been planted on Cambodian land, resulting in 14 villages being ceded to Vietnam.

According to his map and claims from local residents, villages that were formally part of Da, Muol and Ruong communes, were now on the Vietnam side of the border posts, he said.

But Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s senior minister in charge of border affairs, denied that Vietnamese officials had prevented the visit to post 103.

“Based on my team working at that location … what SRP said is not true; it is an exaggeration,” he said, adding that he believed the delegation had visited post 103 and that Vietnamese officials had declined permission for the delegation to visit a site on their side of the border.

“They said that they would not bring them, it is Vietnamese land and if [they go] Vietnam would arrest [them],” Var Kimhong said.

He said SRP claims that Vietnamese police had pushed them were also untrue.

“No one pushed [them],” he said.

He also disputed Son Chhay’s claims that land had been ceded to Vietnam.

“What map? Is it an SRP map?” he said. “I don’t know why he has alleged nonsense like this.”

But residents along the border claimed yesterday that they had lost land.

Yem Muon said she had lost more than 9 hectares of land in Memot district’s Da commune as a result of border demarcations being moved.

“I lost all this land. What can I have to feed my children?” she said. “I farmed [this land] since my grandparents and my parents did.”

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said it was important that the government ensure open communication and access to the border posts.

“I think so far the demarcation process has been very secretive and silent,” he said.

“I think the government’s actions are creating more and more conspiracy theories and fuelling speculation about the feeling that something is not right about the whole process.”

Officials from the Vietnamese-Cambodian Border Affairs Committee met on December 1 to evaluate bids by five international companies vying for a two-year contract to create topographical maps of the two countries’ sensitive shared border.

Var Kimhong said following the meeting that new maps were necessary to replace existing maps that are nearly six decades old.

Proposals were accepted from BLOM Geomatics AS (Denmark), IGN France International, Kokusai Kogyo Corporation (Japan), Samboo Engineering Company (South Korea) and Pasco-FINNMAP (Japan/Finland). The cost for preparing the maps has been estimated at between US$1.5 and $4.5 million dollars.

The committee was expected to announce its selection of the company last week, but a final decision is still pending. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MATT LUNDY

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