Cambodia’s foreign ministry sent a letter of protest to the Vietnamese government on Friday over a border issue in Ratanakiri province, accusing its neighbor of digging five ponds in a sector where the official borderline between the two nations has yet to be demarcated.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service, said authorities in the remote northeastern province discovered the five-meter-by-13-meter (16.4-feet-by-42.7 feet) ponds dug by Vietnamese authorities in Cambodian territory between border pillars in Lom village, Pak Nhay commune, in O Yadav district.
The letter demanded that Vietnam respect the borderline and not make any changes to border markers or allow people to carry out cross-border cultivation or settlement, according to the terms of a joint communiqué the two countries signed in January 1995.
The foreign ministry, which sent to the letter to Vietnam’s embassy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, reminded the Vietnamese that Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded that “pending the demarcation of the border, the areas which have not been demarcated should not be changed” during a meeting on Tuesday with Le Hong Anh, a member of Vietnam’s Politburo.
Um Sam An, a lawmaker from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Committee (CNRP) party, who led a delegation to protest against Vietnamese villagers who dug ponds near the border, welcomed the government’s move, but urged it to continue defending Cambodia’s territory, as it has done with Thailand.
In 2013, the United Nation’s top court ruled that Cambodia should have sovereignty over most of the disputed land around the Preah Vihear temple on the border with Thailand and that Thailand had to withdraw its troops from the area.
“So far, the government has filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice over the Preah Vihear temple, so if the Vietnamese government ignores the Cambodian government’s protest, [Cambodia] should consider filing a complaint with the international court,” Um Sam An said.
He also lashed out against Var Kim Hong, chairman of Cambodia's Border Committee, for not fulfilling a request earlier this week to provide lawmakers with the most up-to-date map being used for border area demarcations so they could determine whether the Vietnamese had encroached on Cambodian territory by creating the five ponds.
Lumphat villagers summoned to court
In another land-related development, four villagers’ representatives involved in a dispute with Vietnamese land concession company Hoang Ann Lumphat were summoned before a provincial court on Friday in Lumphat district, Ratanakiri province.
About 50 villagers from the district’s Chey Uddom commune accompanied them to court.
In mid-April, roughly 300 villagers tried to erect a fence around 200 hectares (494 acres of land) they claimed that the Vietnamese company had taken from them, leaving them without a safe haven in the event of floods.
A district forestry official filed a complaint against the villagers accusing them of encroaching upon the company’s land after forestry authorities had awarded it to Hoang Ann Lumphat.
But Roeun Say, one of the village representatives summoned to court, told RFA that the company did not honor a condition in its concession to reserve 200 hectares of land for the villagers to use for evacuation purposes during the flood season.
He said Hoang Ann Lumphat had started clearing the land without informing the villagers.
“We have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Another village representative, Sam Kai, said the company had started to clear the land in April without seeking permission from the villagers.
“We are coming to the court on behalf of the villagers,” he said. “We are not the owners of the land. The land is a communal land.”
Phoum Thmei, chief of Na Bunvai village in the commune, said many residents live along the river and must escape to higher ground during floods.
“The area is a safe zone for use during the rainy season, [when] people are evacuated to the zone,” he said.
Morm Vanda, deputy provincial prosecutor, said he had summoned the villagers to court based on the complaint filed by forestry officials.
“I don’t see the villagers committing any crime yet, but I need to summon them to be questioned because there is a complaint,” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, said local authorities were using the court to silence the villagers.
“It is appropriate for villagers to demand a safe site, so the court shouldn’t proceed with the case,” he said.
Reported by Sek Bandit and Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.