Cambodian NGOs and opposition figures are urging government authorities to demand that Vietnam remove a string of military shelters set up in a disputed border area, calling the tents’ presence on the border an attempt to encroach on Cambodian territory.
The nine shelters, housing from five to six Vietnamese soldiers each, were discovered on April 26 by Cambodian police patrolling the border in Kandal province, who asked that the tents be taken down.
Vietnam has meanwhile remained silent on the issue, though soldiers present on the border said they had been stationed there to guard against illegal border crossings amid fears of the spread of coronavirus.
Cambodia Watchdog Council member Rong Chhun told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday that Vietnam’s presence in the disputed border region is an attempt to invade Cambodian territory, and urged the government to quickly build infrastructure and increase patrolling in the area.
“The government needs to ask for [international] intervention in this matter and file a complaint with the signatories to the Paris Peace Accord,” Rong Chhun said, referring to the 1991 agreement ending a war between Cambodia and then occupier Vietnam.
“We must do this to resolve the dispute and protect our territorial sovereignty,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Muong Sony—president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association—blamed weak government policy for what he called Cambodia’s failure to defend its border with Vietnam.
“We can see that the government has no clear policy to defend our borders, so Vietnam is always able to encroach,” he said, adding that he will lead a delegation to visit the disputed area this weekend.
Meanwhile, former opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An, who once served a prison term for his Facebook postings criticizing government handling of the border issue, said Cambodia should clearly define its border using a map prepared by former colonial power France.
“We want the Vietnamese to remove their tents, and we need to demarcate the border using the French map,” he said. France was the colonial ruler of both countries from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.
Replying on the Telegram messaging service to a request by RFA for comment, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhon said on April 29 that his Ministry will consider filing an official protest over the border issue after he has concluded an investigation.
“We are awaiting reports from the relevant ministries and institutions so that we can make the appropriate diplomatic response,” he said, adding, “These kinds of events happen from time to time.”
Unresolved border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam have sparked incidents in the past, with the construction by Vietnam of military posts in contested areas quickly challenged by Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh.
In June 2015, activists from Cambodia’s now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were attacked by Vietnamese villagers when they went to inspect an area in Svay Rieng province where they said a road built by authorities in Vietnam’s Long An province had encroached into Cambodian territory.
A joint communique signed by Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995 stipulates that neither side can make any changes to border markers or allow cross-border cultivation or settlement pending the resolution of outstanding border issues.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.