Contrary to government assurances, Cambodia has indeed lost land to Vietnam, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told supporters in Australia, firing yet another shot in the ongoing dispute over the demarcation of the eastern frontier.
Speaking in Sydney as part of a fundraising tour, the Cambodia National Rescue Party president continued pressing the sensitive issue despite recent arrests and threats of legal action by Prime Minister Hun Sen linked to the opposition’s recent campaigning on the issue of border encroachment.
“The authorities said that the yuon did not take Khmer land,” Rainsy said, using a word for the Vietnamese considered derogatory by some.
“Brothers, sisters, if you want to believe this, go ahead. But we, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, we believe the people living along the border, especially Khmer farmers.
They have lost rice fields, farmlands and forest.”
Rainsy, who has long used the disputed Vietnamese boundary as a key plank in his political platform, said he believed villagers’ claims that border posts had been planted inside their land.
“Their farmlands are the territory of our Cambodia, all of ours together. They have wept, cried and complained, and we believe these people. People do not create a tale without truth. They are victims; they are witnesses.
“So, as long as there are people crying that the yuon has taken their land, we must defend those Khmer citizens. They are victims because of yuon’s encroachment,” Rainsy said.
Since June, CNRP members have highlighted several cases of alleged Vietnamese encroachment, led “inspections” to disputed areas, including one which turned violent, and accused the government of ceding land by demarcating based on “fake” maps favourable to Vietnam.
Initially, the government surprised observers by demanding Hanoi stop the encroachments and undertaking efforts to “verify” its maps.
But in recent weeks, it’s grown increasingly intolerant of what it calls opposition “politicking”.
On August 15, Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested for “treason” for posting a “fake” section of a 1979 border treaty on Facebook.
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated a threat to arrest anyone who said the government used fake maps.
Senior government minister on border affairs Var Kimhong yesterday declined to comment on Rainsy’s speech.
Sok Touch, head of a Cambodian Royal Academy team investigating the border issue at the request of the government, said that while people living near the border may have been affected by encroachment, Rainsy’s claims were “politically motivated” and did not take into account the relevant maps, laws and treaties.
“Sam Rainsy … is not a patriot; he loves politics more than patriotism,” Touch said, adding that he himself would visit villagers on the border this week as part of efforts to see whether the areas were correctly demarcated.