The United Nations has delivered a set of maps more than five decades old to Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen asked for help in dispelling allegations by the country’s opposition that his government had ceded land to neighboring Vietnam based on its own set of incorrect charts.
Mereani Keleti Vakasisikakala, acting president of the U.N.'s Dag Hammarskjold Library, handed over 18 of the maps dating from 1964 to Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at a Thursday ceremony at Hun Sen’s office in the capital Phnom Penh, known as the Peace Palace.
In July, Hun Sen had asked U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to loan him its maps of mainland Southeast Asia so they could be compared to the ones Cambodia is using to demarcate the border.
Keleti Vakasisikakala stressed that the loan of the map was “exceptional” and for a limited time, adding that the U.N. was “not here on a mission to support or to officially agree to the borderline or any names on these maps.”
After a two-hour verification process, chairman of Cambodia’s border committee Var Kimhong told the media that the U.N. maps—which are the same 1/100,000 scale as the government’s own 26 maps—showed claims by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were without merit.
“The borderline that we are using is not fake—it is the same as the border which appears in the maps from the U.N.,” he said.
Cambodian officials acknowledged that the government still plans to further verify the border demarcation based on the U.N. map and on maps requested from former colonial ruler France, England and the U.S.
The process is expected to include digitally superimposing maps on top of one another, as well as matching up coordinates using a Geographic Information System (GIS) system.
Sok Touch, head of border research for the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told RFA that he plans to conduct his own verification of the U.N. maps.
“We want to see whether the maps … have the same position or not,” he said, adding that the academy will issue a report about its findings.
CNRP spokesman Ou Chanrith told reporters after the ceremony that it was too early for the opposition to conclude whether the U.N. and government maps were identical.
The map ceremony comes days after senator Hong Sok Hour of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) was arrested and charged with forgery and incitement for posting a disputed diplomatic document online relating to the border issue.
The arrest was the latest in a series of government actions against Hun Sen's political opponents.
In an ongoing dispute with Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the CNRP—a merged political grouping that includes the SRP and is led by Sam Rainsy—contends that Vietnam has been encroaching upon Cambodian territory at various spots along the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border.
It has also accused the government of ceding land to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979, by using incorrect maps to determine border demarcations. To date, around 83 percent of the border has been completed.
The border issues led to clashes at the end of June between activists led by CNRP members and Vietnamese villagers as the Cambodians inspected a road that the Vietnamese had built in a disputed area of Cambodia’s Svay Rieng province.
Reported by Brach Chev for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.