The installation of five “satellite markers” by a joint Cambodia-Vietnam border committee near a controversial border area on Monday has drawn criticism from Cambodian residents and local authorities who say the move was done without prior notification in the latest territorial incident between the two nations.
Residents of Cheung village, Choim commune, in Memot district of Tbong Khmum province in Cambodia's central lowlands told RFA’s Khmer Service that they would protest the decision by the Joint Cambodia-Vietnam Border Committee and remove the markers if it continued to act without informing them and placing them in danger of losing their land.
Border police officers and officials from the joint committee erected the satellite markers numbered three through seven in a gap between border demarcations 94 and 95, infringing upon land owned by four Cheung village families, villagers said.
“I’m worried that I won’t know what I’ll have in the future to feed myself when my farm [land] is gone,” said villager Nhong Sinoeun, adding that officials installed the markers without informing members of the community as they have done in the past.
Ko Snguon, another villager, said the markers were installed on land where he and others planted rice and other crops.
Villagers would protest the move because they distrust the local government to help resolve such issues, he said.
“People do not agree [with what the authorities did], and if they take all the land, we have to protest against it,” he said. “We will gather many other people to pull out all the markers.”
Theam Den, chief of the Boeung Chrong border station in Memot district of neighboring Kampong Cham province, said district and commune level authorities erected the markers according to the Joint Border Committee’s orders, although he himself was not involved.
RFA could not reach Koy Pisey, the official in charge of National Border Affairs, for comment, but in the past she has said both Cambodian and Vietnamese have jointly determined all border demarcations in the area and informed residents of their activities.
Uoch Oeun, acting chief of Choim commune, also said officials installed the five satellite markers without informing locals.
“If border markers are erected, [officials] must do it transparently and ensure it is acceptable to the people,” he said. “But this time, it was not acceptable to the people, and they regret the loss of their land.”
Social development researcher Meas Ny agreed that the move was not done with transparency and suggested that the Vietnamese government has great influence over its Cambodian counterpart.
He noted that Vietnamese officials have not filled up ponds they dug in Cambodia’s remote northeastern in Ratanakiri province or removed a checkpoint installed in the country’s southwestern Takeo province, although they had agreed to do so.
Meanwhile, residents of Borei Cholsar district in Takeo province have claimed that Vietnam has encroached upon Cambodian territory in the Thmor Bei Dom (Three Rocks) Zone, sources in the area said on condition of anonymity, despite efforts by both countries to place border demarcations to end territorial disputes.
The area which borders An Dang province in Vietnam sits between border pole numbers 266 and 267 of the 1,270-kilometer (789-mile) border between Cambodia and Vietnam.
“Originally, the border posts were on Cambodian land, [and the area] was declared a ‘white zone,’ said one source, referring to a shared zone that both countries can use.
Although the border posts were located outside the white zone, Vietnamese farmers who planted crops in the area kept expanding their farmland until they pushed up to the border markers, he said.
Khut Sakhoeun, a resident of Thmor village in Kampong Krorsang district, which is located in the Three Rocks Zone told RFA earlier this month that the zone had fallen under Vietnam’s control although it previously belonged to Cambodia after the two countries finished demarcating the area in December 2014.
“Just after the white zone was demarcated, [the Vietnamese] started using a hut [there] to watched for birds to keep them from destroying their crops,” he said. “But the hut used to be a former station for Cambodian border officers.”
The deputy chief of the Three Rocks Zone, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said the area was no longer part of Cambodia’s territory.
Villagers in Kampong Krasang commune, however, said Cambodia still controlled the area around one of the rocks, while Vietnam controlled the area around the other two.
Social development researcher Kem Lei said he used to travel by speedboat to the Three Rocks Zone and had the freedom to move around the area. When he and his colleagues surveyed the area, the markers were on Cambodian territory, he said.
“But after [officials] had erected markers 264, 265 and 266 in the Three Rocks Zone, we looked at it again, and it seemed that two pieces of land were gone,” he said. “The citizens living there were worried about the loss, too.”
RFA could not reach Cambodian government border officials or Takeo’s governor for comments.
But Sut Sakhorn, the head of Borei Cholsar district who is in charge of patrolling the border, denied the claim that Vietnam controlled all of the Three Rocks Zone after the demarcation had been completed.
“This is just a rumor,” he said. “The Three Rocks Zone is under Cambodia’s control. The villagers living there didn’t raise such a claim, because I always ordered border protection forces, police and soldiers to patrol the area.”
Nevertheless, the Cambodian government does not allow area residents to travel freely to the zone, because Vietnamese officials requested that visitors be strictly monitored, border patrol sources said. In addition, Vietnamese are not allowed the photograph the area.
Border tensions have been an explosive issue in Cambodian politics this year with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of ceding land to Vietnam.
A few months ago, the government matched a map from France issued prior to Cambodian independence in 1953 and a set of 1964 maps from the United Nations delineating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam to its own official chart to dispel the allegations.
Afterwards, Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone who accused the government of using “fake” maps and ceding national territory amid an ongoing political dispute over the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam.
The move came after Cambodia’s parliament had voted to strip opposition senator Hong Sok Hour of his immunity, prompting criticism from rights groups, after Hun Sen accused him of treason for posting a disputed diplomatic document online relating to the Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
Reported by Saut Sokheng and Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.