After weeks of fiery rhetoric, more than a thousand opposition supporters led by four parliamentarians streamed towards a remote stretch of Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province yesterday, ostensibly with the goal of examining the placement of a border marker there.
However, after a highly unscientific inspection – conducted without so much as a map – the situation along the still-disputed border remained virtually unchanged, despite exhortations from lawmakers leading the cavalcade that the marker was misplaced.
Convening close to Border Post 203 in Kompong Ro district’s Tnort commune, Cambodian National Rescue Party supporters cheered wildly as lawmakers Real Camerin, Um Sam An, Nuth Rumduol and Cheam Channy passed first through a line of police and then through a line of what appeared to be irregular security personnel armed with sticks standing between them and the contested marker.
While about 120 supporters were allowed to accompany them – a figure previously agreed upon – the vast majority were forced to watch on from across a large pond, which formed a natural barrier between them and the frontier marker, some 100 metres from which stood dozens of people waving Vietnamese flags.
“We do not recognise this border post; it was planted within Cambodian territory,” Um Sam An shouted from atop a platform at the post while holding a Cambodian flag.
The border post is one of many points along the frontier where the CNRP has accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of standing by as Vietnam claims swathes of Cambodian land.
Further north, in Ratanakkiri province, a series of irrigation ponds dug by Vietnamese in Cambodian territory have caused similar tensions, and seen the Cambodian government send a flurry of diplomatic notes to the Vietnamese Embassy in recent months.
With the CNRP convinced Border Post 203 is sunk into the ground hundreds of metres into Cambodian territory, it has become a flashpoint as Vietnamese authorities have begun constructing a road along the border as it is currently marked, allegedly digging up the ancestral burial grounds of Cambodian communities in the process.
“They [the Vietnamese] told me to take the bones of my grandparents out of the ground, but I refused,” local villager Soeung Hum, 52, said.
“I would like to call for the government of Hun Sen and international organisations to help resolve this.”
While construction was on hold yesterday, digging equipment could be seen in the distance and local villagers insisted it had only halted because of the gathering.
Prior to yesterday’s gathering, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy had urged Camerin and Sam An to guarantee violence would be avoided, after a visit to the same spot late last month left 10 people injured.
However, tensions briefly threatened to boil over into violence as boisterous protesters first began to make their way towards the line of informal security forces, prompting the stick-wielding plainclothes men to take wild swings at the crowd.
The party’s organisers, however, soon managed to restore the calm, and the lawmakers and those allowed to accompany them set off towards the border post Police then formed a barrier between the rest of the crowd and the plainclothes men, the origin of whom remained unclear.
Throughout proceedings, Cambodian soldiers armed with rifles stood on banks surveying the scene.
After the opposition leaders returned from the marker to a hero’s welcome, however, it remained uncertain what had been accomplished, with lawmakers promising to return to Phnom Penh to continue examining the disputed marker in future.