Cambodia’s opposition party vowed Friday to continue tracking the country’s border disputes with Vietnam, despite a threat from Prime Minister Hun Sen to arrest anyone who accuses the government of using fake maps to demarcate the territory.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was responding to a letter issued by Hun Sen and published by the government-affiliated media group Fresh News, cautioning opposition leaders and lawmakers not to use the border issue for political gain.
In the letter, the prime minister said he submitted to CNRP leader Sam Rainsy a law related to the Cambodia-Vietnam border issue, which was signed by King Norodom Sihamoni.
He urged the opposition politician to instruct his CNRP colleagues about treaties related to the matter, including a controversial 2005 border document that supplemented a 1985 treaty with Vietnam signed under the post-Khmer Rouge Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
Hun Sen advised Sam Rainsy to tell his colleagues to stop meddling in the government border affairs and threatened to take immediate action against anyone who said the government used fake maps to demarcate the border with Vietnam or who criticized Cambodia’s monarchy. He also informed Sam Rainsy that he was willing to engage in political games with him.
The CNRP, a merged political grouping that includes the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in the Senate, has been engaged in a months-long dispute with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which it accuses of letting Vietnam encroach upon Cambodian territory at various spots along the 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition has never used the border issue for political gain, because the territorial disputes are a matter of national concern.
“They [the CPP] should be proud that Cambodians are concerned about their own territory,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, but added that the CNRP would continue its activities with regard to the border issue if it continued to be a problem.
“If the government does it right, then we will support it, but if the government does it wrong, then we will give constructive criticism,” he said. “This is the democratic society.”
But Hun Sen warned that he would not pardon or excuse anyone under any circumstances if they defamed his administration by accusing it of using of fake maps now that the government on Thursday had verified the accuracy of its own maps against those sent by the United Nations.
Yim Sovann said the government should avoid causing never-ending problems for the Cambodian people and give them the opportunity to participate in addressing issues that affect the nation.
Hong Sok Hour’s lawyer files appeal
Hun Sen’s warning came as Sam Sok Kong, the lawyer for Senator Hong Sok Hour, filed a motion with an appeals court to release the opposition politician on bail following his detention for posting a disputed document on social media about the border with Vietnam.
The SRP lawmaker was arrested last Saturday and charged by a Phnom Penh court the following day with forgery and incitement. His arrest followed an accusation by Hun Sen that he had committed treason.
“We will wait until Monday to see whether the court responds to our request,” he told RFA. “We just filed the appeal two days ago, so we must wait five days, according to the criminal law procedures.”
Hong Sok Hour faces a sentence of up to 17 years in jail for forging a public document, using a forged public document, and incitement to cause serious unrest for social security.
In the meantime, 12 civil society groups, including Adhoc, Licadho and Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council to intervene in human rights violations in the country regarding the arrest of Hong Sok Hour and imprisonment of 14 CNRP officials and activists, and two environmental activists.
Am Sam Ath, an investigator for the domestic rights group Licadho, said the human rights situation in Cambodia has grown worse because of the arrests and jailings.
“We want the U.N. Human Rights Council to advise the Cambodian government to ease up and change based upon its obligation to better promote the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said.
The NGOs also urged the Cambodian government to end illegal land grabbing, ensure peaceful protests, stop threatening human rights group and cooperate with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia.
On Friday, the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a field hearing in California on property rights in Cambodia and the Philippines.
“Government cronies and domestic and foreign businesses are responsible for seizing land” in Cambodia, said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a news release prior to the hearing. “The government has appropriated land and homes, sometimes forcibly, for agriculture, mining, logging and tourism.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, said the NGOs’ letter was intended only to put on a show for the U.N., and that the government’s actions so far were based on rule of law principals.
“In Cambodia, no one is above the law,” he said. “We have been practicing the rule of law.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.