SVAY RIENG PROVINCE
PARLIAMENTARIANS from the Sam Rainsy Party scuffled briefly with police in Svay Rieng province on Monday as they went to investigate a border area where villagers say Vietnamese authorities have encroached on their farmland.
The group of around 20 lawmakers travelled from Phnom Penh in an attempt to visit the site where opposition leader Sam Rainsy had earlier uprooted several border markers to protest alleged Vietnamese land-grabbing.
Sam Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on November 16 for his part in the incident, paving the way for legal prosecution. He is facing charges of incitement and destruction of public property in Svay Rieng provincial court, according to documents he provided last week.
Around 30 provincial police officers initially formed a barrier blocking the parliamentarians and several dozen villagers from accessing the site of Sam Rainsy’s October stunt.
“You cannot go in to see the border. This is an order from a high-ranking provincial official,” Svay Rieng police official Kong Sovanara told the assemblage.
A shoving match ensued between police and area residents as they attempted to push past the officers, though no one was hurt, and police eventually allowed the group to pass.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said his party was not looking for a fight and had come only in pursuance of their duties as National Assembly members.
“We have not come here to make problems or cause conflict with anyone,” he said, adding: “We came here because of people’s claims that they lost their land. We want to see with our own eyes.”
Residents of Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district, the site of the event, said the Vietnamese had been steadily moving in on their territory.
“We want the government to think about the eastern border – they think about the western border too much,” said one woman, Meas Srey, who claimed to have lost more than a hectare of farmland. “I am not afraid of prison because I have lost my land. I’ve planted rice here for a long time.”
After observing the border area and talking with residents, Son Chhay said a lack of transparency in border demarcation had contributed to the Cambodian villagers’ frustrations.
“We want the border markers to be placed with observation by villagers, observers and journalists from both sides,” he said, adding that the current system “is not clear for the people”.
Var Kimhong, senior minister in charge of border affairs, said he had no problem with the SRP’s trip. “Opposition party parliamentarians can go to the border – that is their freedom. But do not destroy public property,” he said.
Though he acknowledged that some Cambodians may be affected by border demarcation with Vietnam, Var Kimhong called this an inevitable aspect of the process.
“If we use poles for demarcation, people’s rice fields are always affected,” he said. “If they do not want their rice fields affected, they should plant their rice fields in the sky.”
Svay Rieng provincial Governor Cheang Am could not be reached for comment.