Govt disputes SRP post about Vietnam border encroachment
OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy could face fresh criminal charges after his party released what it said was concrete proof of Vietnamese border encroachments, a senior government official said on Monday.
Government adviser Tith Sothea said the government was considering whether to take legal action against the Sam Rainsy Party president for publishing documents denigrating the government’s border-demarcation efforts.
“The government will consider taking legal action to prohibit any illegal publication that affects the security of the social order,” he said, adding that a decision would not be made until after Sam Rainsy’s trial on Wednesday.
Tith Sothea, who is also a member of the Quick Response Team at the press office of the Council of Ministers, defended the government’s effort, which he said was based on a 1985 treaty with Vietnam and a 2005 agreement approved by the National Assembly and signed by the King.
“Sam Rainsy is not the representative of Cambodia’s 123 parliamentarians,” he said. “On the contrary, he has affected [the country’s] honour and its overarching interests.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, could not confirm whether the government would launch legal action against Sam Rainsy, but described the SRP’s evidence as “misleading”.
“It’s misinformation that has been published through his Web site,” he said.
“It’s just to cover up what they’ve done by pulling up these border markers.”
On Sunday, the SRP posted on its Web site what it described as “unprecedented evidence” that Vietnamese border markers 184, 185, 186 and 187 have been placed well inside Cambodia’s legal territory as defined by a French map from 1952 and a 1966 map published by the US Department of Defence.
According to a statement released with the documents, Sam Rainsy enlisted historians and geographers from several countries to determine the placement of the markers.
The charges currently facing Sam Rainsy stem from an October 25 incident in which he travelled to Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district and joined villagers in uprooting temporary border posts they said had been placed in their rice fields by Vietnamese authorities.
Sam Rainsy, who is currently overseas, is set to stand trial at Svay Rieng provincial court on Wednesday along with two local villagers involved in the incident. Three more are on the run from the police.
When contacted on Monday, SRP spokesman Yim Sovann defended the party’s research, saying it would soon begin investigating border-demarcation efforts along other stretches of the countries’ 1,228-kilometre shared border.
“I think this is very accurate – everything is shown on the map.… Nobody can deny the facts,” he said.
Others noted the government’s rapid reaction to the release of the SRP’s evidence, saying it stood in stark contrast to its attitude towards issues on the Thai border.
“This kind of rapid reaction will only play into what others believe, which is that Hun Sen and the Cambodian government is not willing to address concerns about the Vietnamese border,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
“It probably shows that Sam Rainsy has a point.”
WHAT I AM DOING IS SHOWING THE TRUTH.... THE MAIN JUDGE IS THE KHMER PEOPLE.
Earlier on Monday, Sam Rainsy said he had no interest in his trial proceedings, saying the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
“We knew about Cambodian court processes, so we do not have confidence in the court,” he said by phone from Paris, adding that he was not presenting his evidence for the interests of the court.
“What I am doing is showing the truth. These are documents and evidence that cannot be denied. If the court still wants to be blind, it is up to the court,” he added. “The main judge is the Khmer people.”
Playing the Vietnam card
One day before his trial, however, it is unclear what benefit the opposition will gain from the prolonged confrontation in Svay Rieng. Though Sam Rainsy has tapped into a deep vein of local concern – the historical fear of Vietnamese domination – analysts are divided on whether it will translate into future gains at the ballot box.
Some argued that playing up the Vietnam issue could lead to considerable gains for the SRP.
“Cambodian people are concerned about their livelihoods, but if you talk to them they talk about border concerns and immigration,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the local election monitor Comfrel. “I think this could attract more voters.”
Ou Virak said the SRP’s border campaign – including its use of a derogatory term to refer to ethnic Vietnamese – would likely galvanise its “hardcore supporters” and solidify its base.
“A large chunk of the Cambodian population has similar views of animosity towards Vietnam.... Using this kind of rhetoric will get you a good percentage of votes,” he said.
Others, however, were less convinced of the utility of the Vietnamese border issue. “In my view, Sam Rainsy’s Vietnamese card has won him some popular support, but not to the extent that he could win elections,” said Sorpong Peou, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Despite gains at the ballot box since 1998, she said, other Cambodian voters were more likely to worry about more basic needs, such as securing their next meal.
Caroline Hughes, a political scientist at Murdoch University in Perth, told the Post in November that though the Vietnam issue might promote unity among “scattered and isolated rural supporters” of the SRP, it might also be aimed at the Cambodian diaspora, from which the SRP derives financial support.
“To some extent, I think it distracts attention from more serious land issues, and even from more serious border issues,” she said.
While striking a strong nationalist chord could ultimately position the SRP well against its liberal and royalist rivals in the opposition camp, Ou Virak said it was hard to tell whether it would start to burrow into the rural base of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
He noted that Hun Sen was also scoring points in his current standoff with Thailand – another traditional enemy to the west.
“It doesn’t appear at the moment to be changing [the situation] much,” he said.