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Putting border issue on the map

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Members of the media crowd around a paper map yesterday morning at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh during a press conference. Heng Chivoan

Putting border issue on the map

The Cambodian government yesterday produced some of the maps it has been using to demarcate the eastern frontier, stressing that they match the constitutionally mandated map despite having been developed in Vietnam.

At a press conference at the Council of Ministers, the government’s senior official on border affairs, Var Kimhong, exhibited a few of the 26 maps used to delineate the border, over which tensions have flared in recent weeks amid claims of Vietnamese encroachment.

Kimhong told journalists and opposition lawmakers present that the maps, drawn to a 1/50,000 scale, were copied from the constitutionally mandated 1/100,000 scale maps – produced by French colonial authorities and submitted to the United Nations by late King Norodom Sihanouk in 1964.

He said they were jointly developed over the course of a month in Vietnam following the 2005 border agreement, which the opposition insists ceded territory.

Vietnam provided a “white map” without a border, and a joint working group drew the boundary, which was then approved and signed by the two border committee presidents, Kimhong said.

“We have respected the constitution fully,” he added.

“[We] have not used any untrue maps; they have been approved by co-presidents of the joint border committee and [the committee’s] technical chief.”

“The royal government has not lacked transparency, but the border problem is a sensitive problem.”

However opposition lawmaker Um Sam An – who has long requested access to the map – was not satisfied, telling Kimhong the document was wrong and did not match his version.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Un Sam An is blocked from giving a press conference at the National Assembly yesterday.

He called for the full version’s release, saying that based on yesterday’s presentation, it still appeared the map ceded territory.

“I compared my map with his map and saw that there were losses of land in Kampot, Takeo and Tbong Khmum provinces,” said Sam An, who together with CNRP lawmaker Real Camerin was blocked from speaking to reporters immediately after the press conference.

Speaking yesterday, Cambodian National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy said the party – which had been forwarded some sections of the map – had not yet been able to examine in detail whether Kimhong’s version matched a copy of the UN-endorsed map it recently obtained from France.

Rainsy said the “bits and pieces” presented by Kimhong “didn’t prove anything” when it came to whether the delineation was being correctly executed, while the map’s Vietnamese origin was concerning.
“The question is, did they actually use those maps to delineate the border,” he said.

“Those maps were produced in Vietnam, so it is very suspicious; when you have a border conflict with a country how could you rely on a map produced by that country? That’s irresponsible.”

Rainsy said the CNRP will propose a bipartisan committee, involving both ruling and opposition lawmakers and independent cartographers, to investigate whether border markers were correctly placed using GPS.

Next week, the joint Vietnam-Cambodia border committee, comprising 20 senior officials from each country, will meet in Siem Reap to discuss the demarcation process as well as a brawl between a CNRP-led delegation and Vietnamese authorities on the border on Sunday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON

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