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MPs visit disputed Svay Rieng border

MPs visit disputed Svay Rieng border

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1,949 monks, hundreds of nuns and dozens of legislators joined in a public ceremony in Phnom Penh June 5 to call for the return of Kampuchea Krom. The ceremony is to remind Khmers of the loss of what is now south Vietnam, which nationalists say was given to that country by France in 1949.

Ning Aun says her farmland was handed down to her through three generations, after

her great-grandparents began farming the fields in the now-contested border area

with Vietnam.

She is one of six families living in the middle of 100 hectares of rice fields. Their

attempts to grow rice, she said, have been stymied by the Vietnamese authorities

who are trying to lay claim to it.

"Every rainy season we are confronted by them," Aun told the Post May 31.

She said not a day passed when she was not worried for her safety.

Aun spoke of her problems as a parliamentary delegation led by Princess Norodom Vacheara,

who heads the National Assembly's foreign affairs commission, visited the area to

investigate claims of Vietnamese land-grabs. The May 30-31 visit was the first by

lawmakers to any of Cambodia's disputed border regions.

Dong commune, which is in Romeas Hak district, lies 35 kilometers northwest of Svay

Rieng town on the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Provincial governor Hun Neng, the brother

of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said there was disagreement about a total of 12 kilometers

where marker poles were not yet built.

Cambodia's long-running border disputes with both Vietnam and Thailand look set to

become an important political issue ahead of the general election which is due at

the end of July 2003. Cambodia and Vietnam pledged to resolve their disagreements

by the end of 2001, but failed to do so.

Lawmakers from both Funcinpec and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party have protested

loudly over the border issue. Most recently Prince Norodom Chakrapong, who last month

established his own party, spoke out about it too.

King Norodom Sihanouk also recently asked the government to investigate alleged land

encroachment after protesters came to Phnom Penh last month claiming Vietnamese authorities

had destroyed rice fields, confiscated their cows and buffaloes, and beat their children.

Princess Vacheara said the controversy could easily escalate in the coming months

as farmers tried to return to their farms in time for the coming rice-growing season.

Governor Hun Neng and several provincial officials met with the delegation and told

them the people at 'Six Houses' area, where Aun lives, held both Khmer and Vietnamese

nationality.

"They behave like a fish trap with two sides," said Hun Neng of the villagers.

"They will take the side of whoever brings them a gift."

The governor said the issue was too contentious for the provincial authorities to

solve, and told lawmakers that central government needed to get involved. Both Cambodia

and Vietnam, he said, had requested the local authorities maintain the status quo

until agreement was reached on the border issue.

"We are all concerned about our sovereignty. Sometimes I want to fight [the

Vietnamese] instead of being patient with them," Hun Neng said. "I will

not allow anyone to take our land, not even that amounting to one hand's length."

Development of the area has been suspended until agreement is reached between the

two governments. Hun Neng told the delegation that Vietnam had not yet taken any

land.

Aun said her fellow villagers have been given permission by both governments to stay

on the disputed land, but are forbidden from building more houses. The result is

that nine families now live in six palm tree houses.

Despite that agreement, Aun said, Vietnamese soldiers in civilian uniform turned

up "at least" three times a day to the village. She said she now took turns

with her husband to guard their cows and buffaloes each night. Vigilance was also

necessary during the day, since if livestock was taken they would have to pay up

to 50,000 riel to have each animal returned.

Fellow villager Net Sdeoung, 51, told the Post that he was in a similar situation.

He said the most serious problems took place in the rainy season, which is about

to begin, when they start planting their rice.

"One day we plant the rice, and the next the Vietnamese come with AK-47s and

electric shock batons and pull up the seedlings," he said. "If we try and

protect our fields they shoot in the air and use their shock batons on us."

Sdeoung said he and more than 100 other families had been forced to give up some

or all of their land in the past two years.

"I don't know anything about the map [of Cambodia], but this is our land which

was given to us by our great-grandparents," Sdeoung said. "There was no

problem with our land before 1970, so why after coming back from [the Pol Pot regime]

do we have problems now?"

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