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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prime Minister: "even one centimeter" is a VN invasion

Prime Minister: "even one centimeter" is a VN invasion

CAMBODIA'S traditionally uneasy relations with Vietnam remain in the political spotlight,

after First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh lashed out at alleged land-grabbing

by the Vietnamese.

Days after debate over Vietnam's history in Cambodia was revived by the reinstatement

of the January 7 public holiday, Ranariddh alleged a recent Vietnamese "invasion"

in the form of encroachments on Cambodian land.

The Funcinpec leader accused Vietnamese farmers, backed by soldiers, of advancing

several hundred meters into Cambodian territory in Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces.

Ranariddh said that Vietnam's moving of the border between the countries by 300-400

meters - or "even one centimeter" - still represented an invasion of Cambodia.

Vietnam farmers and tractors were not working on lands which they had not before,

he said, protected in at least one Svay Rieng border area by Vietnamese troops.

Ranariddh's comments won the support of Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party faction

leader Son Sann, who said Khmers had suffered for many years from such incursions.

Sann - a leader of the Khmer Krom, who descend from former Cambodian land now part

of southern Vietnam - urged the Vietnamese government to pursue a "long overdue"

peaceful settlement over border disputes.

Even Sam Rainsy, who Ranariddh was instrumental in having expelled from Funcinpec,

offered a degree of praise for the Prime Minister by saying he was correct to raise

the issue.

But Rainsy urged Ranariddh to go further, and to take action to try to get border

treaties with Vietnam - signed by the former regime headed by current Second Prime

Minister Hun Sen - cancelled.

"It's not a matter of being anti-Vietnamese," Rainsy said. "If we

have some problems with Vietnam, which we do, we should say so."

Several political observers spoken to by the Post largely attributed Ranariddh's

comments to domestic politics. They noted Hun Sen's recent move to expel Funcinpec

secretary-general Prince Norodom Sirivudh, and to bring back the January 7 holiday

marking Vietnam's 1979 invasion to oust the Khmer Rouge regime.

"Maybe some of Ranariddh's advisers are telling him it's time to strike back,"

said one observer.

"He's testing Hun Sen, like Hun Sen was testing him over Sirivudh and January

7."

Other observers pointed to the recent return of Sam Rainsy - a strong critic of the

loss of Cambodian land to Vietnam - as a contributing factor for Ranariddh's statement.

Speaking Jan 17, Ranariddh accused Vietnam of "a complete violation" of

an agreement to preserve the border status quo until a joint working group was set

up to discuss disputed territory.

He urged the working group be formed urgently.

Vietnam, in several statements issued by its Phnom Penh embassy, responded by saying

it always respected Cambodia's territorial integrity. It said any disputes should

be settled peacefully by negotiation, at either the local level or through the joint

working group.

"Regrettably...this mechanism has not been used yet," a Jan 20 statement

from the embassy said.

Ranariddh, in his comments, spoke of one Cambodian being killed and two Vietnamese

injured in border clashes. But Cambodian and Vietnamese officials were unable to

confirm that report.

Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesmen said staff had been sent to several areas to

investigate.

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