A Cambodian official in charge of the country’s borders denounced an opposition lawmaker who accused him of lying about a map of the Southeast Asian nation he found in the U.S. Library of Congress, amid ongoing debate over the charts that the government uses to demarcate its border with Vietnam.
Var Kimhong, chairman of Cambodia’s joint border committee, previously said he had retrieved the map of Cambodia on the fifth floor of the U.S. government’s library in Washington.
But on Wednesday Um Sam An, a lawmaker from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), wrote on his Facebook page that he had found the map on the basement floor of the institution, and suggested that Var Kimhong may have not travelled to the U.S. at all.
Var Kimhong, however, told a press conference in Phnom Penh that he had never mentioned the floor on which he found the map.
“I only said that we had this map a long time ago, and we kept it at the National Border Authority on the fifth floor of the cabinet ministers’ offices,” Var Kimhong said. “He [Um Sam An] said I had found the map on the fifth floor of the Library of Congress. He is twisting my words. I have never said that.”
“I really don’t want to talk with him because he doesn’t speak with morality and dignity,” Var Kimhong continued. “It is not right to accuse a government official of lying about the maps.”
The Library of Congress verified that it had the Cambodian map, but told RFA’s Khmer Service that it could not give any information about specific individuals who accessed items in its collections.
The CNRP, a merged political grouping that includes the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in the Senate, has been engaged in a months-long dispute with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which it accuses of ceding land to Vietnam at various spots along the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border.
Um Sam An, who has been traveling in the United States since May to raise funds, said he had copied the 26-piece map, published in 1951 by the Indochina Geographic Group, as well as a disk that contained a digital map.
He said the map could be the one that late King Norodom Sihanouk took to American 51 years ago to acknowledge Cambodia’s borders with Vietnam and Thailand, and that the document did not bear a Vietnamese seal and signature as does the Cambodian government’s map.
‘Inciting public distrust’
Var Kimhong accused Um Sam An of trying to destroy international relations and causing instability along the border, where local Cambodians and CNRP activists have recently clashed with Vietnamese villagers over disputed areas.
“He is inciting public distrust of the Cambodia government,” Var Kimhong said. “He is causing chaos in the country.”
In response, Um Sam An said he was just seeking the truth about the Cambodian government’s map and had no intention of causing any trouble.
“I haven’t done anything that has affected social order or national security, and my research hasn’t caused any violence along the border,” he said.
“I’m not researching the map on behalf of any political party, but for the sake of the nation,” he continued. “I am not a nationalist extremist nor am I discriminating against any nation. I want to the border demarcation to be done according to [former colonial ruler] France’s legacy.”
Um Sam An urged the government to cancel previous treaties it signed with Vietnam in the 1980s, which he claims were done illegally.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the government would prosecute anyone who accused the government of using a fake map, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
His warning came after SRP Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested on Aug. 15 and charged with treason for allegedly posting a phony section of the country’s 1979 border treaty with Vietnam on social media.
The United Nations sent its set of 1964 maps delineating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam to the Southeast Asian nation last week per Hun Sen’s request.
After a two-hour verification process, the government declared that the U.N. maps matched it own, and that the matter was resolved.
Reported by Sek Bandit of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.