A clash between Cambodians and Vietnamese soldiers over a swath of disputed land in a border district separating the two countries in southern Cambodia has become the latest tussle in a string of such territorial conflicts.
The squabble broke out on Sunday when a group of about 500 Cambodians, including representatives from the Cham Muslim ethnic minority group and opposition politicians, claimed on Sunday that 16 hectares (40 acres) of land in Choeung village of Chorn commune in Memot district, Tbong Khmum province, was Cambodian territory.
Vietnamese soldiers blocked Memot district villagers along with four members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) from accessing the area on which the Cambodians said their crops had been poisoned by the Vietnamese last month by a chemical spray. No one appeared to be injured, and the Cambodians eventually turned back.
Isa Ossmann, a Cham representative who led the group to examine the disputed area, called on the Cambodians to refrain from using violence and urged protesters to withdraw.
“I do not want to see this territory [Cambodia] get lost like Champa, but we have to refrain from violence,” he said, referring to the collection of independent Cham polities that Vietnam had annexed.
“We cannot solve the issue via violence; however, we will continue to struggle until our last breath [to protect our homeland],” he said.
A Vietnamese border soldier asked the Cambodian and Cham protesters to withdraw.
“We are Vietnamese soldiers,” he said. “I am defending our country, Vietnam. Now you should go back, because you are now entering Vietnamese territory. You go back and talk to your government about the border demarcation.”
Cambodian border police did not comment on the disputed land.
Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, declared in late April that the disputed area belonged to Vietnam, and that the Vietnamese sprayed poison chemicals on the crops grown by Cambodians because it is their land.
His comments were strongly criticized by the Cambodian people, nongovernmental organizations and the CNRP.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who was with the villagers when the clash occurred, said the Cambodians were angry about losing their farmland.
“Actually, [the disputed area] is clearly on Khmer land,” she was quoted as saying by The Phnom Penh Post.
Cambodia-Vietnam border conflicts have occurred in other provinces including Rattanakiri, 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 Morm Moniroth of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.