The opposition party in Cambodia has for months now conducted a campaign about the border demarcation to Vietnam. They claim that the government is beholden to the Vietnamese in acquiescing to incursions by Vietnamese settlers in the border region. Cambodia is losing a sizable swath of land this way.
They asked the government to make public the maps they use for placing the border posts, again claiming that it uses Vietnamese drawn maps. Unfortunately, the government did not release those maps which only heightened the opposition’s suspicion of foul play, so to speak.
The government, on the other hand, stated that this is not a matter for the opposition to handle, which only uses this issue for their political gain. One must understand that Vietnamese people are not too popular with the Khmer, although many have lived here for decades and are naturalized citizens. The opposition can ask questions in the assembly and that’s about it. It is not a job for the legislature but for the executive. Not the wisest statement either, if you ask me.
The opposition even went so far as to gather about 2,500 people to travel to the border to inspect border posts. They were met by hostile Vietnamese farmers there and it came to minor clashes. Reputedly, the opposition MP who organized this trip spent $50,000 on it. (Like there wasn’t a worthier cause to spend this kind of money on.)
In the spirit of the culture of dialogue that both parties had come to follow the government relented somewhat and admitted there might have been mistakes in placing some of the border posts. The PM sent a letter to the U. N. and the French government asking them to send the original maps with the border delineation the French had drawn up in 1939 and which were later deposited with the U. N. and the French government in 1964 by King Sihanouk. This was to show that this map or actually maps are identical to the ones the government is using for the border demarcation and which formed the basis for the border treaty with Vietnam in 1985.
One can understand that this may be an issue of importance for a country but the opposition’s use of this one issue to enhance their profile is sort of preposterous in a country where so many things need to be addressed much more urgently. Additionally, it would appear that border issues had better be handled on a bilateral basis in negotiations with the other country – and that is clearly the government’s job.
Another MP traveled to the U. S. looking for copies of those maps in the Library of Congress. Another opposition member – a senator – fabricated documents, in fact falsified and forged the border treaty with Vietnam and posted it on Facebook. This brought a swift response. This MP was arrested and charged with treason, admittedly a rather far-fetched interpretation of the term treason.
The PMs goodwill and patience with the opposition’s shenanigans was over. He called Sam Rainsy the leader of the thieves and a liar. I don’t know whether the much heralded culture of dialogue is still in effect. Judging from the PM’s speeches lately it does not seem so.
The U.N. sent an envoy with the maps and they were duly compared; apparently they were identical with the governments maps except for a couple of partials that were UTM projections. A week later the maps from France arrived with the same result.
One would believe that the matter would now be put to rest. But the opposition is still clinging to what might be considered the last straw. They said even though the maps were more or less identical that doesn’t mean that the maps the government used for this comparison were actually the ones they used for the border demarcation.
There is a respected cartographical, reputedly independent scientist working on this. He declared the veracity of the government maps and their use and challenged the opposition to follow the entire border, even on foot through the jungle, to ascertain the accuracy of the demarcation.
One would think that aerial photography and the use of GPS would be sufficient to answer any questions. There is even a company in Phnom Penh that specializes in this. Aerial photographs can be converted into the exact scale of a map and overlaid on it to identify the exact course of a border line. Understandably, this might be a little difficult with impenetrable terrain or where the forest foliage makes this all but impossible. There are many ways to use a map of whatever projection and GPS to identify exact locations. (The writer was trained in navigation in his young years.)
Of course, it is a well-established fact that the opposition has racist tendencies; it has been using those racist overtones in all their election campaigns taking advantage of the population’s general animosity toward Vietnam. Looking back in history it is probably not too hard to find the reasons why there is this racist undercurrent in Cambodia. After all, they lost land – southern Vietnam – to the Vietnamese 400 years ago, and again when the French draw the border somewhat arbitrarily in 1939, and lastly, were occupied by Vietnam for 10 years after these invaded Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. Many in the opposition still want to reclaim Kampuchea Krom (southern Vietnam), Prey Nokor (Saigon), and Koh Tral (Phu Quoc). I believe in political parlance this is called revisionism. The map issue is just another all too transparent populist strategy of pandering to the less educated Khmer with Vietnamese resentments. History cannot be rewritten or changed. What the opposition fails or does not want to understand is that these Vietnamese territories are recognized under international law, and the international court would not award Koh Tral to Cambodia – not to mention the question of jurisdiction as two recognized governments affirmed the border drawn by the French. According to historical research there was no Khmer presence on Koh Tral during the last 200 years. And most importantly what would they do with the island? For a more in-depth look at this issue see

Personally, I think the Foreign Minister was pretty much on point when he said the opposition must think all is good in Cambodia because they only harp on the border map issue.  Well, even if there are discrepancies they could and should be worked out in a different way, just like in any other civilized country. The Spratley Islands and Kuril Islands, both hotly disputed territories, are not domestic issues of the magnitude in the countries concerned the opposition makes the border issue out to be here. At present the opposition engages in pure demagoguery. Why don’t they just let it go and focus on the things that concern 99% of the population not living the Svay Rieng border region for a change?

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