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Map ado about nothing?

Senior Minister of Border Affairs Va Kim Hong inspects maps at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh yesterday after they were handed over by the UN.
Senior Minister of Border Affairs Va Kim Hong inspects maps at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh yesterday after they were handed over by the UN. Heng Chivoan

Map ado about nothing?

A series of original maps of Cambodia turned over by the United Nations match their own, government officials claimed yesterday, using the transfer ceremony to dismiss months of complaints from the opposition that the maps currently in use favour neighbouring Vietnam.

As a room full of reporters watched on, a traced-out government map was carefully overlaid on each of the UN’s, with the borders appearing to correspond precisely.

“We were accused of using forged maps, but now my conclusion is that they are pristine,” said Va Kim Hong, senior minister in charge of border affairs.

“There was no forgery, and I would like to urge that from now on, the border issue must be clear, and [the parties] must stop accusing [each other],” he said.

Amidst opposition claims of Vietnamese encroachment along the border, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the UN in early July to send the original map of the Kingdom that was deposited by King Sihanouk in 1964.

He later asked for maps from the United States, France, and Great Britain.

The United Nations responded a month later, saying that while it could not locate the Sihanouk map, it would bend longstanding rules by allowing Cambodia to “borrow” the maps it did have.

After handing over the maps at a ceremony yesterday morning, an hours-long presentation was held in which the ruling party made its case.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said the issue was “clear” from now on.

“I would like the [CNRP] to calm down its suspicions [about the government],” he said.

“We saw [the maps] together and it is clear now, although we are still waiting for the maps borrowed from France, which will soon arrive in Cambodia.”

But opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrith, who participated at the handover and verification ceremony, said it was too early to tell if the CNRP would now accept the government’s map.

“I will confirm the position [of the CNRP] in the future,” Chanrith told reporters after the event.

Mereani Keleti Vakasisikakala (left), acting president of the United Nations’ Dag Hammarskjold Library, offers maps to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong during a handover ceremony yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Mereani Keleti Vakasisikakala (left), acting president of the United Nations’ Dag Hammarskjold Library, offers maps to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong during a handover ceremony yesterday in Phnom Penh. AFP

“We demanded the verification because we wanted to have national unity and proper maps that benefit the nation.”

“The CNRP has never accused the government of using faked maps, but just some individual [lawmakers].”

Conspicuously absent from the proceedings were CNRP lawmakers Real Camerin and Um Sam An, the party’s most vocal critics on the border issue. Both are on fundraising tours of the United States.

Party president Sam Rainsy and deputy chief Kem Sokha, meanwhile, are in Australia doing the same.

The CNRP has made a national issue of alleged Vietnamese encroachment into Cambodia, with lawmakers taking several “inspection” trips to the border, one of which resulted in clashes with Vietnamese farmers and authorities in June.

The opposition also filed its own map to a national border committee in July, claiming it was the original one drawn up by the French colonial regime.

As the CNRP made political hay out of the issue, the CPP arrested numerous CNRP lawmakers and activists – a campaign analysts, and Rainsy, say is no coincidence.

In July and early August, 14 CNRP activists were given lengthy sentences on “insurrection” charges over a year-old protest.

And on Saturday, opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested after Hun Sen accused him of treason for allegedly posting a fake section of a border treaty on Facebook.

Even though CNRP leader Rainsy said on Monday that the opposition would tone down its attacks on the border, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he wasn’t keeping his hopes up.

“I think that evil politicians from the opposition party have their political ambitions – even if they saw the maps were perfect they will still not recognise the truth,” he said.

As for the UN, the international body distanced itself from the map’s highly politicised nature during the handover ceremony yesterday, warning that it took no position on the dispute.

“We wish to emphasise that the fact that we are making available these maps to the government is not to be understood to imply any official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations of the lines and boundaries within [the maps],” said Mereani Keleti Vakasisikakala, the acting president of the UN’s Dag Hammarskjold Library.

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