In a rare instance of cooperation, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) agreed to back a plan that could finally settle the border dispute between the country and neighboring Vietnam. The border issue has been a potent political issue for both parties as the CNRP has criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen for allegedly giving territory to Vietnam, and Hun Sen has retaliated by jailing politicians who have attacked him on the issue.
The border dispute has also vexed Vietnam as the two countries have been working to complete demarcation of the border for more than two decades. But this week Hun Sen and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed ask the government of France, former colonial ruler of Cambodia and Vietnam, for assistance in copying colonial border maps mandated by the Cambodian constitution into maps that use modern cartographical techniques.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy discussed the issue with Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service journalist Chun Chanboth on Tuesday. While Sam Rainsy remains a powerful force in the opposition, he has been barred from entering Cambodia and faces arrest if he does so. Other opposition politicians, notably opposition lawmaker Um Sam An and opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour have been jailed for posting their comments on Facebook about the border dispute.
RFA: It is very rare to hear the leaders of the opposition and ruling parties agree on anything like a request for assistance from France to convert the antiquated Bonne maps with a resolution of 1:100,000 to the modern, GPS compatible Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) maps with a resolution of 1:50,000 to assist in the border demarcation efforts. You have stated that it would be better to let France help with the maps than to allow Vietnam to produce them. However, some people say it is too late to do that now. Can you elaborate on this?
Sam Rainsy: I think it’s better late than never. A lot of people agree that it is a wise idea to seek assistance from France with the maps and related documents. I trust that the maps provided by France are more reliable than the maps produced by Vietnam. France is an expert, for it has been involved in this case for over a hundred years. The supplement map we ask her to provide us is not meant to replace the maps as stipulated in Article 2 of our constitution. We should not be afraid to use a supplement map which is more detailed.
RFA: Should there be an amendment to Article 2 of the constitution before the proposed UTM map with map scale of 1:50,000 can be used for the border demarcation purpose?
Sam Rainsy: The constitution does not need to be amended to allow a UTM map with a scale of 1:50,000 to be used. It is only an additional tool to make the map more detailed and accurate. There is no change in the content of the map.
RFA: This is the first time you have agreed with the government on a point regarding border demarcation. However, some senior members of your party do not agree with your idea. What do you think of that?
Sam Rainsy: Let me clarify: We would like France to help convert the scale, but not the system. We would like the scale of 1:100,000 to be converted to the scale of 1:50,000. The latter version of the map has more detailed information which can make border demarcation work easier and more accurate.
RFA: But still, some senior members of your party appear to have different views regarding your move. How do you convince them this is the right thing to do?
Sam Rainsy: Cambodia and Vietnam have used a map produced by Vietnam for the border demarcation work. I don’t trust the map produced by Vietnam. This is the opportunity to ask France to help us. We trust France with this.
RFA: Why does that matter?
Sam Rainsy: If France is involved, we have a neutral country that can be our arbitrator on this. It is way better than having Cambodia and Vietnam alone work on this. So far, the border demarcation has been approximately 80% complete. However, the work has been based on the maps produced by Vietnam. Now, with a UTM map to be provided by France, we will see if we have to revisit the case from point A-Z again.
RFA: But France used to concede Cambodian land to Vietnam. Why do you think you should trust her with this?
Sam Rainsy: Today France is different from France in the colonial period. Circumstances have changed. I trust France as a neutral country. I don’t think France gets any benefits from taking the side of Vietnam or Cambodia. France has indicated that if both countries ask for help, she would help.
Translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service.