Vietnamese Military Shelters Remain in Disputed Border Area Despite Cambodian Diplomatic Protest

Vietnam has yet to dismantle a string of military shelters set up in a disputed area along its border with Cambodia more than a week after Phnom Penh lodged a diplomatic protest through its embassy in Hanoi, Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Kong said Friday.

The dispute stems from the April 26 discovery of nine shelters, housing from five to six armed Vietnamese soldiers each, by Cambodian police patrolling the border in Kandal province, who asked that the tents be taken down.

Across the border, which has been closed since mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, authorities in Vietnam’s An Giang province later said troops had been deployed to guard the area against illegal entrants who could potentially cause an outbreak.

Since then, Kuy Kong said, Cambodian authorities located a total of 31 shelters in what he said are Kandal’s Koh Thom and Leuk Daek districts, prompting Cambodia’s embassy in Hanoi to issue a May 13 diplomatic dèmarche, demanding that the structures be taken down.

Only three were removed, he said, while the other 28 remain “in violation of the border treaty ratified in 1985 and other bilateral treaties.”

“The Vietnamese side said they put their forces there to prevent people from illegally crossing the border, but if they had built their shelters on their land, we would not have sent a letter of protest,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“When they built [shelters] in non-demarcated areas we had to protest.”

Vietnam has yet to issue an official response to the claims of border encroachment.

Cambodian border activist Mean Prum Moni confirmed that Vietnamese soldiers had not pulled out of the disputed border yet, adding that Vietnam’s government “is using the coronavirus as a pretext to intrude on Cambodian territory.”

He welcomed the government’s move to diplomatically protest the encroachment, but said that if the issue isn’t resolved soon, it should file complaints with international courts and signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accord that ended a war between Cambodia and then-occupier Vietnam.

“We want the government to file complaints to Paris Peace Accord signatories if Vietnam continues to violate Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty,” he said.

Long-running border issues

Last month, former opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An, who once served a prison term for his Facebook postings criticizing government handling of the border issue, said Cambodia should clearly define its border using a map prepared by former colonial power France.

“We want the Vietnamese to remove their tents, and we need to demarcate the border using the French map,” he said. France was the colonial ruler of both countries from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

Unresolved border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam have sparked incidents in the past, with the construction by Vietnam of military posts in contested areas quickly challenged by Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh.

In June 2015, activists from Cambodia’s now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were attacked by Vietnamese villagers when they went to inspect an area in Svay Rieng province where they said a road built by authorities in Vietnam’s Long An province had encroached into Cambodian territory.

A joint communique signed by Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995 stipulates that neither side can make any changes to border markers or allow cross-border cultivation or settlement pending the resolution of outstanding border issues.

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