Cambodia has deported 700 illegal immigrants in the past six months, the ministry of interior said on Thursday, as the detention of Vietnamese border guards who disguised themselves as local police to spy on a meeting underscored Phnom Penh’s difficulty in controlling its borders.
Ouk Hai Seila, head of the ministry’s immigration investigation bureau, told RFA’s Khmer Service authorities had deported 500 Vietnamese and 200 Chinese illegal immigrants since late 2014. Most had come seeking work in construction, he said.
“Illegal Vietnamese are coming to Cambodia because there are ethnic Vietnamese who are living in Cambodia. Some contractors in construction businesses and carpentry hired staff from Vietnam. They are illegal entering the country,” he said.
Ouk Hai Seila spoke to RFA after a raid on Wednesday by police netted more than 50 illegal Vietnamese immigrants, who were working in Karaoke parlors and as carpenters.
Cambodian social analyst Kem Lei told RFA some aspects of the raids were questionable because they were conducted in secrecy and took place without addressing problems of lawlessness and corruption that allowed easy entry into the country.
“Immigration law has not been fully enforced, so this raises concerns,” he said.
Cambodia’s difficulty in policing its frontiers was driven home by another incident this week involving its larger neighbor Vietnam in an area where the two countries have a nagging border dispute.
On Wednesday activists from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) detained two Vietnamese border police officers who dressed in Cambodian police uniforms and eavesdropped on a meeting the party held in Ratanakiri province to call attention to what they say is illegal irrigation dam construction in by Vietnamese people on the Cambodian side of a disputed border.
Local villager Romas Svat told RFA that the villagers detained a spy who sneaked into the group to listen the rally.
“We detained a Vietnamese, but we didn’t use any violence against him,” he said.
CNRP lawmaker Mao Monivann, who had led a rally in the area on Monday, stepped in to prevent a crowd of Cambodians who had threatened to beat up the Vietnamese officers, which they accused of spying on the activists.
“They [Vietnamese soldiers] entered Cambodia illegally, they abused Cambodian laws. We detained them for the police,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. One escaped during the scuffle.
Police later released the Vietnamese officer, drawing criticism from Cambodian activists, who said the captured man should have been tried.
“The police officers abused the law by releasing the Vietnamese soldier who entered Cambodia illegally,” Chhay Thy, a coordinator for the NGO, told RFA.
On Monday, around 200 activists from Ratanakiri province led by opposition lawmakers confronted dozens of soldiers and villagers from Vietnam in a standoff over the digging of irrigation ponds in a non-demarcated area along the border shared by the two nations.
The activists were met by around 50 Vietnamese soldiers armed with guns and patrol dogs, and Vietnamese villagers, at the edge of the so-called “white zone” of unmarked border territory in Oyadaw district, Mao Monivann said on Monday.
After a three-hour standoff, the group from Cambodia pushed forward into the white zone and determined that Vietnam had broken an agreement between the two nations prohibiting development of the area until the border is officially demarcated.
Conflicts along the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) Cambodia-Vietnam border have occurred in several other provinces, including Svay Rieng, Kampot, Tbong Khmum and Kampong Cham.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.