Former colonial ruler France has agreed to lend a set of maps to Cambodia following a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen and amid a dispute over the demarcation of the Southeast Asian nation’s border with neighboring Vietnam, officials said Tuesday.
France will hand over the maps—produced by its National Geographic Institute (IGN) prior to Cambodian independence in 1953—in a ceremony on Thursday, chairman of Cambodia’s border committee Var Kimhong told a press conference in Phnom Penh, citing a letter from French President François Hollande.
The French maps will then be used to verify the 26 maps currently used by Hun Sen’s government to demarcate the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border with Vietnam, he said, both of which use the same 1:100,000 scale.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) alleges that Hun Sen’s government has ceded land to Vietnam based on its own set of incorrect charts, which adhere to a 1985 agreement signed by the two countries during Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia.
In Hollande’s Aug. 31 letter, written in response to a July request by Hun Sen and obtained Tuesday by RFA’s Khmer Service, the French president confirmed the decision to lend the IGN maps to Cambodia as part of a bid to resolve the ongoing dispute.
He commended Cambodia’s “interest in demarcating the border according to international law with transparency,” but added that Paris would “show no bias” on the issue as the former ruler of French Indochina—an area which comprised parts of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos until those nations won their independence following World War II.
“In order to resolve this conflict, the French Embassy in Phnom Penh will deliver a copy of the maps published by the IGN, which the institute has provided,” the letter said.
“However, France would only consider sending map experts to assist in verification if the two relevant sides [Vietnam and Cambodia] make a joint request.”
Deputy chairwoman of Cambodia’s border committee Koy Pisey told RFA that the French maps would “clear up the border issue” and urged the country’s politicians to “stick to the facts” when using them to verify the government’s own charts.
“When we receive the maps, we will reveal them to the public and we will verify our own maps,” she said.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Chhim Phalvorun told RFA that if the verification ceremony shows the Cambodian and French maps are matched, it would dispel any allegations that the government is using incorrect charts.
“If the map is verified, we can resolve our internal issue,” he said.
The government has invited five representatives each from the CNRP and from the royalist Funcinpec party, as well as Cambodia’s lawmakers, to act as witnesses during the verification process.
But CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith, who will join a team of opposition witnesses, called on the government to allow more stakeholders to take part in the verification process, and said the “discussion must allow questions” from all sides.
Sok Touch, head of border research for the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told RFA that he would also take part in the verification process, adding that he expected it to put an end to the border dispute once and for all.
He urged Cambodia’s politicians to “stop exploiting the border issue” for their own purposes and to “allow researchers to work on the case.”
Hun Sen response
Hun Sen on Tuesday sent a letter to Hollande thanking him for the French maps, and stressing that his government is using “legal maps” to demarcate the border with Vietnam.
“I would like to inform His Excellency that there is no conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam over the maps because they are recognized by the two countries,” he wrote, adding that the only dispute over the border is linked to internal Cambodian politics.
Hun Sen’s letter follows a statement last week that the government would prosecute anyone who accused the government of using a fake map, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested on Aug. 15 and charged with treason for allegedly posting a phony section of the country’s border treaty with Vietnam on social media.
The United Nations sent a set of 1964 maps delineating the border to Cambodia in early August based on a request from Hun Sen, who has also asked for maps from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
After a two-hour verification process, the government declared that the U.N. maps matched its own, and that the matter was resolved.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.