A group of opposition officials and indigenous villagers from northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province claimed Thursday that guards from Vietnam threatened to shoot and kill them as they inspected disputed border territory, in the latest land squabble between the two neighboring nations.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) executive committee chairman Eam Eourn said four military personnel from Vietnam chased him and nine others away shortly after they began examining the “white,” or disputed, areas in Oyadaw district along the border for illegal irrigation ponds dug by local Vietnamese.
“They cursed us and shouted for us to leave, saying that if we took pictures they would beat us up and destroy our cameras,” Eam Eourn, who is also a member of the Ratanakiri Commune Council, told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“There were four Yuon,” he said, using a term for Vietnamese in Cambodia which some consider derogatory. “I took the pictures of them. They wore kop [Vietnamese] hats and military uniforms.”
Sev Svinh, an ethnic Jarai resident of Oyadaw’s Lom village, told RFA that the Vietnamese border guards had tried to confiscate cameras from the group.
“They threatened to kill us—they tried to take away my telephone and camera while I was taking photos, but I pushed them away,” he said, adding that they had accused the group of encroaching on Vietnamese territory.
Sev Sving said that members of his indigenous community own the areas where Vietnamese villagers have been digging ponds, and had farmed there since 1975. But he said that Vietnamese had repeatedly evicted his group from the land, claiming it belonged to Vietnam.
Members of the group monitoring the disputed area said that no Cambodian border guards were dispatched to the scene of Thursday’s incident to intervene.
Ratanakiri police commissioner Heng Ratana confirmed that the area—located between border posts 31 and 39—is under dispute between Cambodia and Vietnam, and said the two countries were still working to finalize border demarcation.
He said national authorities are “taking action” to resolve the issue of Vietnamese nationals digging ponds in the area.
“The digging of reservoirs has stopped and we are waiting for the border committee to finalize the border [between the two countries],” he said.
Ratanakiri government spokesman Nhem Sam Eourn claimed that provincial and ministerial delegates had visited the disputed areas, and said Cambodia would make a formal request to Vietnam to fill in the illegal irrigation ponds.
But Chhay Thy, an official with the provincial office of local rights group Adhoc, slammed Cambodian authorities for not closely monitoring the border, unlike their Vietnamese counterparts.
“According to our observations, four ponds have been dug since last year for watering [Vietnamese] pepper plants and three more ponds were recently dug,” he said.
“They used excavators, but our incompetent Cambodian authorities weren’t even aware of it … This is serious negligence.”
The latest row over territory between the neighboring nations follows a clash between around 500 Cambodians and a group of Vietnamese soldiers on Sunday over 16 hectares (40 acres) of disputed land in Tbong Khmum province’s border district of Memot.
Vietnamese soldiers blocked Memot district villagers along with four members of the CNRP from accessing the area where Cambodians said their crops had been poisoned by Vietnamese using a chemical spray last month. No one was injured, and the Cambodians eventually turned back.
Conflicts along the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) Cambodia-Vietnam border have occurred in several other provinces, including Svay Rieng, Kampot and Kampong Cham.
The CNRP has repeatedly called on the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to re-examine and resolve the border issues with Vietnam, although its efforts have been in vain.
Party leader Sam Rainsy, who is currently in the United States, said last week that he would use the “culture of dialogue” with Hun Sen to discuss the border problem and other issues, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.