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Border talks stick to script

Va Kim Hong and Ho Xuam Son
Va Kim Hong (right) and Ho Xuam Son (left) sign an agreement at the Council of Ministers yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Border talks stick to script

Three days of talks between Cambodia and Vietnam on what has become a highly charged border dispute concluded yesterday, with general commitments to prevent encroachment in yet-to-be demarcated areas and to stop “incidents” along the eastern frontier, an outcome slammed as “useless” by the opposition.

Despite the government’s recent tougher public stance against the alleged encroachment, no mention was made of the Kingdom’s recent diplomatic protests to Hanoi over suspected border infringements in Ratanakkiri or Kandal provinces.

Nor was any reference made to the brawl between an opposition-led group and Vietnamese authorities on June 28.

In a brief written joint statement, the joint border committee acknowledged the ongoing demarcation process was “complicated”, but stated that it was 83 per cent complete and would finish soon.

Both sides agreed to enforce “the spirit” of a January 1995 joint press release, which states that, pending demarcation, disputed areas should remain unchanged, while people should be “educated” to prevent cross-border cultivation or settlement.

Further, the committee, comprised of 25 officials from each country, said the joint border technical group and relevant local authorities would cooperate to “resolve all incidents” along the border and block the “spread” of incidents that affect the countries’ relations.

Following the meeting, head of Cambodia’s joint border committee Va Kim Hong and his Vietnamese counterpart, Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Ho Xuam Son, refused to elaborate for reporters, the scant details drawing condemnation from the opposition.

“The border committee cannot resolve the issue; the authorities can not resolve; the Yuon never stop,” said Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Um Sam An, using a term for Vietnamese considered offensive by some. “We have seen these three points and they are all useless, we cannot accept them,” he said.

Sam An, who of late has been the opposition’s most outspoken voice on the issue, dismissed the committee’s pledge to abide by the 1995 joint statement, saying Vietnam had already shown its contempt for the agreement by building irrigation ponds in Ratanakkiri and a military post in Kandal, allegedly inside the Kingdom.

The opposition claim Kim Hong has ceded territory to Vietnam by using maps drawn up by Vietnam in the 1980s to demarcate the border instead of the constitutionally mandated French maps, submitted to the United Nations by late King Norodom Sihanouk in 1964.

In recent weeks, Sam An, together with CNRP lawmakers Real Camerin and Mao Monivann, has led a crusade to highlight alleged encroachment, visiting four provinces and clashing twice with Vietnamese authorities. They plan to lead 1,000 people back to Svay Rieng’s Kampong Ro province on July 19, the same place where the brawl erupted on June 28.

Responding yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said that while Vietnam and Cambodia didn’t agree on all points, committing to resolving the border issue peacefully could be considered a success.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON

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