Cambodia’s recent border deal with Vietnam will not result in any ceding of land to its eastern neighbor, Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen told lawmakers Thursday in a rambling speech of more than five hours meant to address concerns over the demarcation agreement.
Hun Sen was summoned to the lower house of Cambodia’s National Assembly, or parliament, by opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmaker Son Chhay after villagers and nongovernmental organizations criticized the move as capitulation to Vietnam.
But National Assembly President Heng Samrin refused Son Chhay the right to question Hun Sen about the border deal, instead telling him to listen as the prime minister was given a seat and proceeded to “clarify” the agreement in a five hour and 20 minute speech carried on live nationally broadcast television.
Lawmakers were also informed before the meeting that they would not be allowed to hold a vote on the issue of the demarcation.
Hun Sen told the National Assembly that the border agreement would not affect any Cambodian territory, adding that an overlap in the borders between the two countries required the government to swap land in two villages in eastern Cambodia’s Kompong Cham province.
Hun Sen said that he had agreed to come before the National Assembly to address allegations by the opposition that he is a “traitor” for having given up land to Vietnam.
“The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in April 2011 to demarcate any land left unmarked,” he said.
“Our goal is to make sure that Cambodia will not lose any land—not even one meter—to Vietnam.”
He said that the government is using a 2005 border treaty with Vietnam based on a map that has been recognized by the United Nations since 1964 and blamed France—the former colonial ruler of both nations—for not having clearly demarcated the division between the two countries.
Before explaining the details of the agreement, Hun Sen told the National Assembly that Son Chhay was his “spy for years” who had fed him intelligence on the royalist Funcinpec opposition party before the group formed a coalition with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in 2008.
The prime minister said that he had once given Son Chhay U.S. $10,000 for his work.
He went on to accuse the SRP of questioning the border deal as a way of politically denigrating the CPP.
Exiled SRP leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to a two-year jail sentence for uprooting markers at the Cambodia-Vietnam border in 2009.
Hun Sen also threatened to release “more information” about Son Chhay in the future if the lawmaker insisted on questioning him about the border deal.
At one point during the speech, Hun Sen told the National Assembly that they would not take a break, but that they were permitted to use the restroom because he would need several hours to finish his clarifications on the border.
In response Son Chhay shouted, “We lawmakers are tired of listening to the speech.”
Hun Sen in turn pointed his finger at Son Chhay and told him to “stay and listen,” adding that it was he who should be tired, not the attendees.
Government civil servants, as well as members of the military and armed forces were told to take time off to watch Hun Sen’s speech. Many Cambodians also watched the address on television.
The Associated Press quoted government spokesman Khieu Kanharith as saying he believed the speech was the 61-year-old Hun Sen's longest in 27 years as prime minister.
After the speech was over, Son Chhay said he was unsatisfied with Hun Sen’s answer because he had been unable to ask the prime minister any questions, despite having to listen to accusations against him. He added that he was still unclear about the land swap, even after the Hun Sen’s lengthy speech.
“Losing village land is not a simple issue. This is not a joke,” he said.
Son Chhay also denied that he had acted as Hun Sen’s “spy” and said he had never accepted any money from him.
Following the speech, villagers and rights groups also expressed disappointment that the National Assembly had not allowed opposition members to question Hun Sen.
A ‘tuk tuk’ taxi driver who had listened to the speech told RFA’s Khmer service that it would help Cambodians decide which party to vote for in future elections.
“He is the prime minister and he needs to clarify the border issue,” the driver said.
“If the people think his answer was correct, the voters will vote for him.”
Hun Sen is seeking reelection as Cambodia’s prime minister in 2013 and analysts say he may have sought to use the nationalist border issue as a means of garnering public support.
A student named Pong Sen said it was difficult to make a judgment on Hun Sen’s speech alone without the prime minister having been made to answer questions from the opposition.
“It was only the prime minister who provided the information,” he said.
“I don’t know whether the details were correct or not.”
Another student named Sok Kuy said he found the speech interesting because it is an important issue.
“The speech is significant because it addresses a national issue,” he said.
“I want to know how much land we own.”
Cambodia and Vietnam share 2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles) of land and sea border and have completed 280 of 314 planned border posts, or about 90 percent of their joint demarcation.
Many Cambodians are wary of Vietnam’s influence over their country’s affairs.
Reported by RFA’s khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.