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Border villagers cry foul

Border villagers cry foul

THE 38 inhabitants of the Svay Rieng village of Dai Svay are protesting what they

say is Vietnamese coercion to take Vietnamese citizenship and deprive them of their

land.

Dai Svay, part of Doung commune in Romeas Hak district, is approximately 35 kilometers

north of Svay Rieng town and along the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Chim Ead, spokesman for the six affected families of Dai Svay, says the villagers

were approached in mid-March, 2001 by Vietnamese border guards and district officials

who told them that Dai Svay was inside Vietnam.

The villagers were given the choice of accepting Vietnamese citizenship and relocating

deeper inside Vietnam "to nice concrete houses" or moving further into

Cambodia. Villagers say the Vietnamese sweetened the deal with a promise of 100 million

dong ($7100) to each family that accepted the offer.

Ead says Dai Svay residents saw the Vietnamese offer as a blatant attempt to steal

their land, and they rejected it out-of-hand.

"Their efforts to force and bribe us to accept yuon nationality is only to take

our land," Ead told the Post. "I'm sure they don't want us - they only

want our land."

Villagers and district border officials say the defacto Vietnamese citizenship drive

is only the latest in a series of incidents in the area over the past decade that

have resulted in a marked readjustment of the accept-ed border line in Vietnam's

favor.

Border encroachment by Vietnam is alleged by villagers and officials throughout Doung

commune.

Men Ther, Deputy Chief of Doung commune Police Post Administration, told the Post

that more than 1000 hectares of land farmed by area residents had been commandeered

by Vietnam in the past decade.

According to Ther, Vietnamese border guards have on numerous occasions shot into

the air or over his head when he's attempted to stop Vietnamese illegally harvesting

rice on the Cambodian side of the border.

Doung farmer Thy Dek, who says he's already lost 2.5 hectares of rice paddy to Vietnamese

who threatened him with physical violence if he continued to farm the land, says

fear of Vietnamese border guards has forced him to farm after dark.

"Sometimes I chase them off my land even if they point their guns at me,"

Dek said of his nightly forays to a plot of paddy near the commune's Cambodian border

post.

Monthly meetings between officials of the Cambodian districts of Romeas Hak, Romdoul

and the Vietnamese border district of Chav Thanh regularly air Cambodian complaints

of border violations, says Romeas Hak Chief of Administration Yok Nom.

Dai Svay villagers fear that Vietnamese efforts to remove them from their land will

continue.

"I don't want to live in [Vietnam]...I can't accept to become yuon," Ead

said. "I don't want to live with them, to live with Khmer is better...if I move

to live there, I will not be able to come back to the Cambodian side."

Phen Phon, 58, who claims to have lost all of his farm land to Vietnamese encroachment

in 1996, sees a certain historical symmetry in the behavior of his Vietnamese neighbors.

Recalling his memories of North Vietnamese troops routinely crossing the border to

transport ammunition to Vietcong forces in southern Vietnam, Phon wonders aloud whether

the free border access given to the Vietnamese at that time laid the seeds of the

current border encroachments.

"I am sure they are using those [war time] maps for marking the new border,"

Phnon said.

Meanwhile Dai Svay villagers such as Moeung Soeung, 50, look to the Cambodian government

to send a decisive message to Vietnam to end the alleged border violations.

"It's so hard to live here," she said of life in the disputed village.

"On [the Cambodian side] we're faced with food security problems and on the

Vietnamese side we're threatened with expulsion."

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam formed the Joint Border Commission (JBC) in 1998 to

resolve border disputes and to mark mutually acceptable frontiers.

Cambodian JBC Chairman Va Kimhong confirmed that sovereignty over the Doung commune

area was hotly contested by both Vietnam

and Cambodia but said that Vietnam had agreed in late 1999 that Dai Svay would not

be touched.

"If Vietnam now says that [Dai Svay] is theirs or forces villagers to accept

Vietnam citizenship, they're violating the 1995 joint co-operation agreement on border

issues between our two countries," Kimhong told the Post. "The [Vietnamese]

authorities must respect their promise... they can't move or force those people out."

Ead urged that the border dispute that was threatening his village's existence be

resolved peacefully, possibly with international mediation.

"I hope that Dai Svay will be recognized again as Cambodian territory by a peaceful

agreement," Ead said. "If we try to use force to solve this problem we

will lose."

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