In a fiery speech yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen likened the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s nationalist rhetoric on Vietnamese land encroachment ahead of next month’s election to a “silent war” that could spiral out of control should the party be elected.
“They have announced a silent war and are preparing for war with Vietnam already … So I would like the PQRU [Press and Quick Reaction Unit] … to transcribe [the tapes] into English and French and send out to all embassies to understand why Hun Sen is talking about war if they actually won,” he said.
Speaking at a pagoda in Kampong Chhnang province, Hun Sen referred to recent speeches made by key CNRP figures that he claimed announced the party’s intention to raise numerous disputes with Vietnam at the International Court of Justice if elected.
The sites disputed by the CNRP include Koh Tral island, Prey Nokor – the current site of Ho Chi Minh City − and the area of Vietnam’s lower Mekong delta region known to some Cambodians as Kampuchea Krom, Hun Sen said.
“They said they would not make war, [but] they take Koh Tral, Kampuchea Krom, Prey Nokor, where about 15 million people are currently living. [They] are so insolent. It could lead to war,” he said.
Yim Sovann, spokesperson for the CNRP, told the Post yesterday that his party was focused on retrieving Koh Tral, also known as Phu Quoc, from the Vietnamese and removing border demarcation posts across Svay Rieng, Takeo, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri and Kampong Cham provinces.
“It is not about war, it is about political will … [and] it is about the law … If we think that our land is violated we will complain to the international court. We do not create war with any country. We do not like the culture of war, we like the culture of full and mutual cooperation,” he said.
Kampuchea Krom and Prey Nokor were not priorities, he added, saying he could only confirm that the CNRP believes that Koh Tral – Vietnam’s biggest island – rightfully belongs to Cambodia.
“We [also] have to check [if] the demarcation posts … are located in the right places … but if they violate our land we have to negotiate based on maps and international law … we have to check with the UN,” he said.
Opposition leader in-exile Sam Rainsy’s October 2009 removal of border demarcation posts in Svay Rieng province set a good precedent for the future, he added, as Cambodian farmers were able to take back their land peacefully following that move.
Rainsy was convicted in 2010 and sentenced on a series of related charges to more than a decade in prison, a term he escaped by fleeing the country. Villagers Meas Srey and Prom Chea were also convicted in the same case and setenced to a year in jail each, of which they served more than 9 months.
Political analyst Chea Vannath said yesterday that despite the strong nationalistic sentiment in the CNRP, it was difficult to say whether they would actually act on aggressive promises.
“It might not happen in the first mandate. But the nationalistic sense of the group itself is quite strong and genuine. But to say that it will happen or not, it depends on other factors,” she said.
Recent speeches that have stepped up the rhetoric are unlikely to win the CNRP any new supporters, she added.
“To play the lost territory card might be too sensitive and risky because some voters are traumatised by the Khmer Rouge regime so they do not want to face another military conflict … political instability would be enough to destroy a traumatised society already,” she said.
“What Cambodia needs is trust. Trust is the cement of the society,” she added.
The opposition’s political use of Vietnamese land encroachment has been a constant thorn in the side of Hun Sen, with the premier delivering a more than five-hour-long speech to the National Assembly last August to outline a border demarcation plan with Vietnam involving equal land swaps.
The CNRP, which has used derogatory language to accuse CPP supporters of being Vietnamese, Hun Sen added, were violating UN rights envoy Surya Subedi’s call for political parties to avoid exploiting racial sentiments in the electoral campaign.
He also promised that the government would transcribe last year’s National Assembly speech into English and French, as well as broadcasting it in full before the election to educate voters and the international community.
“It will air until the election non-stop…and if [the CNRP] continue to aggravate I’m going to air that forever. It is useless to explain to those people …that is why we will air it nationwide so many people can [listen],” he said.