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Border talks with Vietnam fail to reach accord

Senior Minister for Border Affairs Var Kimhong speaks at a meeting with Vietnamese officials in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Senior Minister for Border Affairs Var Kimhong speaks at a meeting with Vietnamese officials in Phnom Penh on Monday. Heng Chivoan

Border talks with Vietnam fail to reach accord

The second and final day of meetings for the Cambodia-Vietnam Border Committee fared no better than the first, ending yesterday without a joint statement and amid continuing disagreements over basic elements of the border demarcation process.

The committee’s primary purpose is to agree on wording for a joint letter to the French government requesting colonial maps on which to base their discussions.

Leader of the Cambodian delegation Var Kimhong said yesterday’s impasse was reached when the Vietnamese, who failed to attend the morning session, refused to take uti possidetis juris – the principle in international law that newly independent states should inherit their borders from the state they previously belonged to – as the starting point for discussions.

“As a result, there is nothing. We could not agree with one another on the main point of the unchanged borderline,” Kimhong said. Vietnam was pushing to use post-colonial agreements, such as 1985 and 2005 border treaties and a 2011 memorandum of understanding, he added.

“They are not clear about the principle. I do not think that the principle affects the treaties that we have signed with each other. I tried to explain to them but they did not understand, so the signing of the draft could not take place,” Kimhong said.

Sok Touch, a researcher with the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Vietnam wanted to base discussions on land use and occupation, which would allow them to claim land around ponds dug by Vietnamese villagers in a disputed Ratanakkiri border area.

“If Vietnam bases [their claim] on that, it’s not right,” he said.

Kimhong said the sections of border contested by Vietnam lay in Ratanakkiri and Svay Rieng and, if ceded, would cost Cambodia considerable territory. He noted that the disagreement would not delay plans for each side to lay 1,000 border demarcation posts next month.

The first day of the meeting on Monday was hardly more productive. At the end of that day’s session, both sides were scheduled to sign a memorandum detailing the day’s discussions, but neither could agree on the note’s contents.

A Cambodian official said yesterday that on Monday, his team had requested to push on into the evening to get the note signed, but that the Vietnamese had asked for “time to relax”, promising to return early in the morning to put the note to bed.

However, yesterday morning, Vietnamese delegation leader Le Hoai Trung left the country and his subordinates did not attend the meeting, instead contributing their thoughts via email. Six Vietnamese officials did come to the afternoon session, but Trung’s deputy turned up with just 40 minutes of the meeting remaining, the official said.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said yesterday afternoon that if a solution could not be found, then the government should lodge a complaint with an international court.

“This is not a Cambodian mistake. It’s obviously Vietnam encroaching on Cambodian land; they built ponds, buildings and roads on Cambodian land,” Sovann said.

However, Kimhong said outside courts were not an option and that Cambodia would continue to pursue a bilateral solution, starting by sending a signed memorandum on the meeting to Hanoi for signing by the Vietnamese prime minister.

Members of the Vietnamese delegation were not reachable for comment.

Additional reporting by Jack Davies

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