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Verifying the truth over border demarcation: PM orders probe into claims about lost land

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Soung Sophorn (left) inspects border post number 115 in Tboung Khmum province in August. Facebook

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday ordered Cambodia Border Affairs Committee chairman Var Kimhong to meet with villagers at the demarcated border areas in Tboung Khmum province, who claimed their farmlands have been lost to Vietnam.

Mr Hun Sen’s order was made during his meeting with members of the Supreme Consultative Council to review their work achievements for the fourth semester at the Peace Palace.

At a press conference after the meeting yesterday, Chhim Phal Virun, secretary at the SCC secretariat and Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said Mr Hun Sen ordered Kimhong to visit the area where villagers claimed their land was lost due to the demarcation.

“Based on a comment made by a member of the Supreme Consultative Council, Samdech [Mr Hun Sen] had ordered Var Kimhong to go to meet with the people who complain of losing their land,” he said.

He told him to: “Go and see where the land is lost. It is the duty of the Border Affairs Committee to inspect it.”

Phal Virun said Mr Hun Sen also instructed Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, the minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers to organise the presentation to the public about border demarcation.

Rong Chhun shows the location of border post number 114 in Tboung Khmum province on July 2020. Facebook

“The people can register and come to listen to the presentation, which explains border maps and the border demarcation process,” he said, adding the forum could be held at the Peace Palace, where about 500 people will be able to attend.

Phal Virun said the border demarcation work done with Vietnam was made based on the maps produced in the French colonial era as well as relevant border treaties.

Cambodian Youth Party President Pich Sros and a member of the SCC said yesterday that Mr Hun Sen’s order was made in response to his request during the SCC meeting.

“I asked him whether the government has any plan to assign the border experts to visit the people who claim they were losing land because of the border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam in Tboung Khmum province’s Ponhea Krek, where unionist Rong Chhun and Khmer Win Party president Soung Sophorn had visited,” he said.

“In his response, Mr Hun Sen instructed Bin Chhin to order Var Kimhong to urgently visit the people in that area and study how the land was lost or whether it was just exaggeration,” Sros said.

Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council and his activists visited the Cambodia-Vietnam border in Trapeang Phlong commune of Tboung Khmum province’s Ponhea Krek district on July 20, an area where border poles were set up.

In a statement released after his visit, Chhun said that there are irregularities among the installation of border markers, saying the erection of border posts from No 114 to 119 caused people to lose hundreds of hectares of land to the Vietnamese side. The claim led to his arrest early this month.

Sophorn was also arrested and charged in mid-August over alleged incitement and distorting the truth about border issues. He was a leading activist who was protesting for the freedom of Chhun.

Sros said he also asked Mr Hun Sen to publicly reveal the outcome of border demarcation work with neighbouring countries.

“I have previously met with Var Kimhong and he has said if the border demarcation was completed then the people who claim to have lost land have rights to file complaints to the border affairs committee. They [committee] will go to inspect and solve the problem,” he said.

Sros said villagers who believe their land was lost due to the border demarcation should not complian to political activists, such as Chhun, but instead to the border affairs committee.

“Rong Chhun has no duty to solve border issues, they should file their complaint to the government,” he said.

Sros said an SCC delegation will accompany the experts from the border affairs committee to visit the people who claimed to have lost their land as well as the boundary makers along the Vietnam border in Tboung Khhmun province.

Neither Kimhong nor his deputy Koy Pisey could be reached for comment on the case yesterday but they previously defended the border demarcation with Vietnam, saying Cambodia did not lose land to Vietnam.

The Kingdom shares a 1,270-kilometre border with Vietnam and the two nations have been demarcating it since 2006. The two nations early this month also exchanged border topographic maps drawn up by both sides.

Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said yesterday he supports Mr Hun Sen’s order for experts to meet with villagers at the border areas.

“His action reflects a high responsibility of the government and transparency over the border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam,” he said. “The people will be comfortable with the government and it will help eliminate the use of the borderline as a political issue. Sometimes no one loses their land, only politicians cause trouble.”

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