O’YADAV, RATANAKKIRI – Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Tan Dung, pledged their commitment to peace along the border on Saturday and praised progress made in demarcating the border separating the two countries.
More than 100 people – including government officials from both countries and Oknha Try Pheap, who owns Mittapheap casino and hotel at the border – gathered Saturday at the O Yadav border crossing in southern Ratanakkiri province to commemorate the construction of a nearby border post and the opening of a 450-meter long road along the border. After the ceremony, the prime minister and other officials took off on a plane for another border marker inauguration in Takeo province.
According to the prime minister, the two countries still need to demarcate another 17 percent of the 1270 kilometer-long border. After this is finished, he said, Vietnam and Cambodia will focus on solving their maritime boundaries.
“I am so proud that our two countries break through the difficulties within building a peaceful border between the two countries,” he said. “The Cambodian government will make a hard effort to work with the Vietnamese government to ensure that the border posts are accurate and internationally recognized,” he said.
Meanwhile, the premier urged the armed forces along the border to continue collaborating along the border and to support each other’s demarcation process. He also called on the local authorities and residents to maintain border posts.
The site of the ceremony has been subject to a number of controversies regarding Vietnamese encroachment in the district, including several this year. In June, more than 200 Jarai villagers from Lom Village in O’Yadav demanded the firing of the local chief of border police Rocham Chib, after rights organization Adhoc called attention to a number of Vietnamese-built ponds on Cambodian land in the area. Villagers say that the police chief was not fired.
More recently, a resident of Lom named Nith said, there has been concern in the village with companies taking interest in their land. Already, a company given a 4000-hectare land concession has been planting rubber trees there since 2012.
Recently, Nith said, a Vietnamese company has been looking at O’Yadav district. “This year, we’ve had a Vietnamese company come to our village twice, asking to measure our land,” he said. “The first time was in February. They came with a number of Khmer authorities from the provincial governor’s office and representatives of a company. We were not sure the reason they wanted to measure. The second time they asked was just a month ago – six Vietnamese came asking to measure our land. We didn’t let them.”
Adhoc’s Chhay Thi said that the Jarai villagers in O’Yadav have been demonstrating since 2012 on issues concerning both companies being granted land and Vietnamese entering illegally to cut trees.
During Saturday’s program, the prime minister did not address these local controversies, and District Governor Ma Vichut responded to earlier claims of ponds being built on Cambodian territory by asserting that there was no evidence. “Journalists did not have any documents or evidence of the problem,” he said. “If, in the future, there are documents or evidence of encroachment problems, they should be brought to me, so that I can solve the issue.”
Analysts say the Cambodian People’s Party has a political interest in clearing up territorial grey areas, as they have been a repeated point of contention with the opposition party, which has accused the CPP of conceding territory to the Vietnamese. Cambodian National Rescue Party lawmaker Um Sam An told Khmer Times yesterday that he suspects that the government is trying to accelerate the process, at the request of the Vietnamese, before the 2018 elections.
“I think Vietnam is forcing Cambodia to complete the border posts early just in case the ruling party loses the election in 2018,” he said. “Vietnam would have difficulty grabbing new land from Cambodia with a new government, as they have already done.” On December 17, the two governments established a joint commission on demarcation to implement the border treaties previously signed with Vietnam.
“In the future, both countries will have to accelerate the remaining posts, set the boundary and add more than 1,500 posts on the actual territory,” Var Kim Hong, the senior minister in charge of border affairs, said.
Nith, the Lom villager, said area residents support border demarcation but are concerned about its implications for their land. “If they’ve marked the border well, then we’re O.K. with it,” he said. “But our life depends on this forest and the land. If they marked the border badly, if we lose more of our land? We’re not O.K. with that at all.”