Cambodia and Vietnam's shared border is a thorny issue. It was created by the French
last century with more regard for easing colonial administration than the long term
effects on two sovereign states. Vong Sokheng examines the border issue and
what is being done to resolve it.
A PAIR of opposition lawmakers and the Khmer Borders Protection Organization (KBPO)
are claiming that Vietnam is abusing Cambodian sovereignty.
This is the latest allegation in a long series of disputes over the Cambodia-Vietnam
border. In its widest context there have been territorial disputes dating back centuries
and involving claims that Cambodia should have a substantial chunk of southern Vietnam
returned to it.
The latest disputes are on a smaller scale but still stir strong feelings and prompt
calls for a final indisputable agreement on what land belongs to which country.
Two Sam Rainsy Party national assembly members who went to the border, Lim Sokun
and Sith Iprahim say Vietnamese soldiers and dogs have been deployed to protect Vietnamese
villagers who have pushed over the border and are now growing rice on Cambodian territory.
"I think the Vietnamese authorities have ignored an [interim] agreement between
the two countries and are encroaching on Cambodian land ahead of a final agreement,"
Lim Sokhun told the Post.
Cambodia and Vietnam pledged to resolve their long border dispute by the end of this
year and not to move into any new territory while the negotiations are ongoing, according
to a joint declaration on January 17, 1995, by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, then First
Prime Minister, and the Vietnamese President.
But Sokun said that as recently as July Vietnamese encroached on Khmer land in Trapang
Rusei area in Roong commune, Memuth district. He said they have moved about 400 meters
into Cambodia and now control about 30 hectares of farm land which they were plowing
with tractors in preparation for rice planting.
He said the border creep is not a new phenomenon. In 1993, 394 families in three
villages - Da Kondol, Da Kondal and Da Tbong - lost about 15,000 hectares of farm
land to the Vietnamese.
Allegations of such activities have prompted the Khmer Borders Protection Organization
to call on the National Assembly and the Senate to reject the four treaties currently
in force over border issues.
- The treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation for 25 years signed on February
- The treaty on the sea border signed on July 7, 1982.
- The treaty on "The Principle of Border's Solution and the Agreement on Statutory
Borders" signed on July 20, 1983.
- The treaty on "Land Border Demarcation" signed on December, 27, 1985.
The four treaties were all negotiated and signed when Cambodia was under the control
of Vietnam, and are therefore contrary to international law, the group claims.
"It is not acceptable that now Cambodia and Vietnam are using the four treaties
as the basis to resolve the border issue; it is against the Paris Peace Accords,
the Cambodian Constitution and international practices."
The group claims that the treaty with Vietnam and Thailand on the sea border abused
Cambodian sovereignty and the country's territorial integrity. It says that under
the treaty Cambodia lost about 60,000 square kilometers of maritime territory.
National Assembly president Norodom Ranariddh told reporters on August 9 that a group
of Cambodian parliamentarians would go to the border to investigate the reports of
encroachment on Khmer territory.
Ranariddh said he would intervene with the President of Vietnam's National Assembly,
Nong Duc Manch, on the border issue.
"I think that the border issue is very complicated but we have to resolve the
problem otherwise we cannot talk about friendship," he said.
Ranariddh said he believed Cambodians had to strengthen their national unity and
political stability as they enjoyed during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum.
He said at that time there were about 30,000 soldiers but no one dared to encroach
on Khmer territory.
"The King was strong because there was national unity," said Ranariddh.
He said the border issue should probably be decided by an international body like
the international court in the Hague similar to the case that was brought against
Thailand for the return of Preah Vihear temple.
"I think we should talk about the border issue with an international court in
the Hague which is an independent court," he said.
"I am not talking about the reason for Vietnam's encroachment on Cambodian territory
but I am talking about illegal activities."
Cambodia recently entered into a border demarcation agreement with its other neighbors,
Laos and Thailand, in an effort to resolve all the long-standing border disputes.
The Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International
Cooperation, Long Visalo, who is in charge of border issues believes the matter will
be resolved swiftly so long as talks proceed at the same pace they have so far.
"I think if the negotiations with Vietnam keep going smoothly the border demarcation
will be finished by the end of 2000," he said.
Visalo said one of the major problems to be resolved was the map on which the borders
have been drawn. He said the Cambodian constitution from 1993 referred to a map at
a scale of 1/100,000 drawn between 1933 and 1953 which was internationally recognized
in the 1960s. He said they should be using the internationally accepted scale of
1/50,000. This is more detailed and is currently used for border negotiations internationally.
A map at this scale was drafted between 1904 and 1907 for the border with Thailand.
He said the 1/100,000 scale map was also inaccurate.
"We would lose Preah Vihear temple to Thailand if the negotiations about the
border dispute were based on our constitution," he said. "Article 2 of
our constitution is a danger to the border."
Visalo said he had studied the map and found at least seven mistakes on the border
He said there were three technical mistakes on the border of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri
provinces, and another four points confused the border from Kampong Cham to Svay
As an example a colonial governor decided to take lake A as the border line between
Cambodia and Vietnam but the map has lake B as the actual boundary.
Visalo warned a group of opposition lawmakers and Government officials that any negotiation
on the border issue with Vietnam ought not to depend on the map, because if it did
then Cambodia would stand to lose land in the agreement rather than keep what was
rightfully its own.