UPDATED at 10:55 a.m. EST on 2015-11-05
A Cambodian government official in charge of border affairs accused Vietnam on Tuesday of trying to grab land in an eastern province along the border between the two nations, which was not included in a previous agreement signed by both governments.
Var Kim Hong, an officer of the country's National Border Committee and senior minister in charge of the Cambodia-Vietnam Border Affairs Committee, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the Dak Dam area in Mondulkiri province, belongs to Cambodia.
A former governor-general of French Indochina issued a resolution in 1914 during the colonial era, establishing the border of Cambodia passing through the area’s Dak Hood creek, he said, making it part of the country’s territory.
“[Vietnam] … wanted to continue to have control over it,” Var Kim Hong said. “They didn’t recognize our right in our claims. We have the right to claim it because the resolution of the then French governor-general was the law.”
Although the area is currently controlled by Vietnam, he said, that didn’t mean that the country has territorial rights to it, he said, adding that Cambodia would continue negotiating with its neighbor to seek a solution.
On Tuesday, the Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Ministry said the area was under its territorial sovereignty, in response to comments made about the land late last month by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during an official visit to France.
Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said Monday during a press conference that Vietnam had absolute sovereignty over the Dak Dam borderland in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, which is opposite Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province.
Vietnam had sufficient legal and historical grounds to assert its absolute sovereignty over the area, he said.
Hun Sen told Cambodians living in France on Oct. 25 that Vietnam had unofficially negotiated with him to take 60 percent of the Dak Dam area and leave the rest to Cambodia, but he did not agree to it.
He said although Cambodia owns all of the area, he has continued to argue with Vietnam over it, because if Vietnam takes over the land, Cambodia will lose about 51 square kilometers (20 square miles).
Tib Teav, a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council International, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations that advocates for human rights, workers’ rights and development along the border, said Vietnam made the statement to take advantage of an opportunity to acquire Cambodian territory in the Dak Dam area.
He suggested that the Cambodian government use official border maps issued in 1954 and held at the United Nations to prove that its owns the controversial area.
“Everything the Vietnamese side is raising at this time is occurring when the Cambodian government has nothing yet to respond with,” he said, referring to a controversy between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) over which maps the government should use to demarcate its border with Vietnam.
Hun Sen has routinely said that Cambodia sends many diplomatic communiqués to the Vietnamese government requesting that it stop building roads and schools in the disputed area.
The disagreement over ownership of the Dak Dam zone is one of several territorial tug-of-wars between the two countries.
In July, the Cambodian government requested maps from France, the United States and the United Kingdom to verify its border demarcations with Vietnam, following accusations by the CNRP alleging that Hun Sen’s administration had ceded land to its neighbor at various spots along the border, based on its own set of incorrect charts.
The land boundary between the two countries spans 1,270 kilometers (789 miles), according to Cambodia's National Border Committee, although other sources put it at 1,228 kilometers (763 miles).
The government later matched a map from France issued prior to Cambodian independence in 1953 and a set of 1964 maps from the United Nations delineating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam to its own official chart to dispel the CNRP’s allegations. The resolution of the issue, however, has yet to be finalized.
Reported by Prach Chev of RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.