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‘Tent-ative’ cause for concern

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
One of the tents set up by Vietnamese soldiers in the disputed border zone in Kandal province. Police

The Cambodia Border Affairs Committee will study a request by the Interior Ministry to inspect reports that Vietnam has installed more than 250 tents along the border between the two nations.

General Hou Sokun, National Police deputy chief, said last week that Cambodian authorities found 256 tents set by the Vietnamese along border areas shared by the two nations since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Gen Sokun, who also heads the Border Police Department, said eight tents which were removed by Vietnamese soldiers after a protest from Cambodia had not been set up in a so-called “white zone”, but at un-demarcated areas.

The report of the new tents comes after Kandal provincial border police officers in April inspected the stretch near the border gates and found that Vietnamese soldiers had erected 31 tents along the disputed border with Vietnam’s An Giang province.

Senior Minister Var Kim Hong, chairman of the Cambodia Border Affairs Committee, said yesterday the Interior Ministry had requested the committee to inspect the tents installed by Vietnam in “some provinces” along the borders.

“Interior Minister Sar Kheng has asked me to inspect those areas and I told the ministry to send me the coordinates [where the tents were located],” he said, adding the committee could not find the tents without the coordinates.

Mr Kim Hong said he asked the Interior Ministry to provide further details about the 256 tents to determine if action needs to be taken.

“We don’t know where they are, the shared border is 1,270 kilometres long, and how can we find them,” he said.

The two nations have been demarcating their borders since 2006. In October, the prime ministers of both countries signed documents to ratify 84 per cent of completed border demarcation work.

However, Mr Kim Hong, said he won’t allow his committee experts to inspect any tents that are set up inside Vietnamese territory.

“According to reports some of 256 tents were installed inside their territory which were already demarcated and some others were not,” he said. “If they installed the tents on their land, why do we need to have a headache over it?”

Mr Kim Hong also said that the committee would not reinspect the 31 tents installed by Vietnamese solider in Kandal province because Cambodian authorities have already done so.

Contacted on Thursday, Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Vu Quang Minh said he has had no information on the 256 tents.

“On the other hand, I think the number is not the issue. The key question is do the tents violate any agreements and where are they erected? If not, why bother and waste our time?” Mr Vu asked.

Last month Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a diplomatic note to Hanoi, asking Vietnam to remove the 31 tents in Kandal province’s Koh Thom and Loeuk Dek districts.

In response, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the tents were set up along the border to “prevent and control cross-border travels” during the pandemic.

“When this pandemic comes to an end, these tents will be removed and the management of the border will be carried out in accordance with relevant agreements of the two countries as it always was before the COVID- 19 pandemic.” Vietnam said.

However, it said the temporary tents are located “completely within the Vietnamese side when compared with the factual management line measured and agreed by the Special Working Group of the Joint Commission on Land Border Demarcation”, a claim which was later rejected by Cambodia’s Border Affairs Committee.

Regarding the issue, Eat Sophea, a Foreign Affairs Ministry secretary of state, also had a meeting with Mr Vu to discuss the matter early this month.

“[We] requested the Vietnamese side to expedite the removal of all those tents and to maintain the status quo of these areas until the Joint Commission on Demarcation and Adornment for Land Boundary (JBC) of the two countries has completely settled the boundary line in these areas,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement said after that meeting.

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