The Royal Academy’s head border researcher has appealed for calm in the wake of findings that some Vietnamese border posts were indeed planted inside Cambodian territory during the 1980s, telling people to blame “history”, more specifically, the French.
Six months after a furore over alleged territorial encroachment by Vietnam, propelled by some Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers, sparked what many saw as the beginning of a brutal state crackdown on the opposition, academic Sok Touch asked that cooler heads prevail as the countries continue their ongoing delineation of disputed border regions.
After reiterating findings, first revealed on Sunday, that three posts in Tbong Khmum were between 5 and 50 metres within Cambodia, Touch moved to stress that the situation wasn’t permanent, and that GPS technology, as well as the future publication of his research, would ensure boundaries were clear and respected in the future.
“I told people not to be worried, there is no loss of land. We will exchange the land back,” Touch said, estimating more than 10 hectares was likely affected.
By the same token, Touch noted that his research, which was commissioned by the government after last year’s controversy and remains ongoing, had discovered two border markers that were positioned in Vietnamese lands, including number 171 in Bavet town, which had been planted in the middle of a Vietnamese house.
Touch said that the government had, on his advice, inspected the two areas, which could be used in a land exchange, and also noted the presence of border markers within Cambodia evoked a somewhat more excessive reaction than those erected within Vietnam.
“If [border posts] were planted inside our Khmer land, a demonstration would take place,” Sok Touch said.
National sensitivity over the integrity of Cambodia’s borders grew over centuries as the neighbouring powers of Siam (today’s Thailand) and Vietnam ate into the dwindling Angkorian Empire.
Touch suggested French efforts to map the region in the 19th and 20th centuries, when it ruled as a colonial power, had created many of the disputed areas.
As for who made Cambodia lose territory, he said, “It is history. It is not Hun Sen. It is not Lon Nol. It is not Pol Pot,” he said.
In recent years, anxiety over the border, particularly the eastern boundary, has been wielded by the CNRP to rouse popular support, often by linking the government to Vietnam, whose military helped oust the Khmer Rouge regime and installed the current ruling party’s core members in power in the 1980s.
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An, among the opposition’s most ardent border campaigners who led rallies to disputed sites last year, dismissed Touch’s findings as government-biased.
“Ask farmers on the border if they lose farmland or not,” he said.
Senior Border Affairs Minister Var Kimhong declined to comment yesterday, while government spokesman Phay Siphan backed Touch’s work.