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PM: No Land for Vietnamese

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Prime Minister Hun Sen wants land renting to stop. Supplied

Prime Minister Hun Sen has implored those living along the border with Vietnam to stop renting land to Vietnamese nationals and ordered his government to speed up a demarcation process that has been slow to accurately define the country’s borders.
In a Facebook post after a meeting with civil servants in Takeo province on Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen said the province’s proximity to Vietnam made it imperative that provincial government officials did more to “enhance cooperation” with their eastern neighbor and introduce more cross-cultural exchanges.
Despite his desire for closer ties betweeb the province and Vietnam, the premier made it clear that renting Cambodian land to anyone from Vietnam was strongly prohibited.
“We forbid them from renting land to Vietnamese people. This is not only for Takeo province, but for every province which shares a border with Vietnam,” he wrote. “For border work, authorities must prepare the border poles as soon as possible.”
Last October, the Interior Ministry sent a letter to every governor of a province along the border with Vietnam, telling them to stop any residents renting or selling land to Vietnamese nationals, citing reports that farmers were allowing foreigners to cultivate plantations in provinces along the borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
The governor of Tbong Khmum province, Prach Chan, told Khmer Times in March that residents in his province had frequently rented their land to Vietnamese nationals in the past.
“Previously, there were a number of people in Ponhea Krek district and Memot district who rented their land to Vietnamese farmers,” Mr. Chan said. “After the Interior Ministry informed us, now there are no [plots of land leased to Vietnamese farmers] in the province.”
On July 14, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told all sub-national authorities to ban the rental or sale of land to foreigners in border provinces in an effort to “avoid border problems.”
“Land rental and sale along the border for a long time can become a territorial issue because other parties can then claim the land belongs to them since they have owned it for so long,” Mr. Kheng said.
Cambodia and Vietnam have pledged time and again to finally demarcate their border officially to end any confusion, but the process has moved slowly despite a continual stream of controversies around the issue.
Son Chhay, a senior official in the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who is active on the border issue, said even though the prime minister and Mr. Kheng have released directives about the border again and again, very little about the situation has changed in the last two years. “To be effective, they should give rights to local authorities to handle demarcation,” he said.
Independent analyst and social development researcher Meas Ny said it was not the first time the government announced a ban on land rentals in border provinces. But the issue keeps cropping up precisely because the government only addresses it when it is in the news and has done very little to deal with the root cause, he said.
Once the news shifts from the border provinces, people there go right back to renting land to foreigners, he added.
“If they just appeal to people yet don’t do anything specific, it will always stay the same,” he said.
Mr. Ny criticized the government for not being more specific about the ban and stricter with its enforcement.
“It’s okay if they rent only one of two hectares. But if they rent thousands of hectares, that is when a crisis occurs,” he said. Mr. Ny was not hopeful for the future when it comes to border demarcation and said the government had now shown itself to be willing to allow Vietnam to violate the Kingdom’s sovereignty repeatedly.
“Even if they [Vietnam] dig ponds on our land and our region, we didn’t do something to them because we have small forces. We can only stand and watch,” he told Khmer Times.
According to a preliminary report from the Interior Ministry, 952 families living in border provinces rented their land to Vietnamese nationals.
The land, totaling 6,631.51 hectares, included large chunks from Takeo province (3,420 hectares), Svay Rieng province (1,038 hectares), Prey Veng province (1,292 hectares), Kratie province (214 hectares) and Kandal province (665.61 hectares).

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