By: May Titthara
Date: August 19th 2016
Source: Khmer Times
Provincial officials in Rattanakiri rejected a request by the Vietnamese government to allow them to construct buildings and a border checkpoint in O’Yadav district after a meeting between both sides in Banlung City on Tuesday.
Despite Cambodia denying Vietnam permission to build in the area and sending letters to the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry asking for construction to be stopped, soldiers from across the border have continued to dig ponds and build structures in the area.
The land, near the border post in Pok Nhai commune across from Vietnam’s Gai Lai province, was designated as no-man’s land until defined borders had been created in a January 17, 1995, agreement between the two countries.
But for more than a year now, residents, police and provincial government officials have reported non-stop construction by Vietnamese soldiers. Last April at least eight ponds, approximately four by eight meters wide and three to four meters deep, were dug by Vietnamese soldiers in the O Koma area near a border protection office in Pok Nhai commune.
Government officials said they would handle the issue diplomatically, but many nearby residents say the Vietnamese soldiers continue to dig deeper into the ponds.
Only last week Nhem Sam Oeun, the deputy governor and provincial spokesman, said police watching the border in O’Yadav district saw Vietnamese soldiers laying concrete for the foundation and pillars of potential structures and told them to stop immediately.
Mr. Sam Oeun said yesterday that during the meeting in Banlung, Vietnamese officials justified their actions by claiming that the land where the soldiers were seen digging and building was technically in Vietnam, ignoring the agreement to demarcate the area first before constructing anything.
Cambodia and Vietnam had initially agreed to build another border checkpoint near the O’Yadav district international border gate in December. But at the meeting, Rattanakiri officials denied a request to start building the border gate until the Foreign Ministry here had been notified.
“We have already sent a report to the national level. We do not have the right to allow them to build and construct, so we have to wait for a decision from the national level. We went to stop them from building. We tried not to allow them to keep building,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
But when police approached the soldiers and asked them to stop building, they were rebuffed.
“We went to stop them, but they told us that they will only stop when they receive a letter telling to stop from the national office,” he said.
He added that his officials were sending reports regularly to their superiors about the construction work done by the soldiers near the Cambodian border protection office in the O Koma area.
Va Kimhong, the senior minister in charge of the Cambodian Border Affairs Committee, said he had not received any reports from Rattanakiri about the issue, but claimed the government had already sent a diplomatic note to Vietnam about the construction, notes which have been summarily ignored.
“They won’t respond to us easily,” he said.
Chhay Thy, the Adhoc provincial coordinator in Rattanakiri province, said it has been a year since people reported seeing Vietnamese soldiers digging ponds and yet they have repeatedly ignored directives from the government to stop.
The actions, he said, show that Vietnam is not simply confused about the borderline, but willfully ignoring Cambodia’s sovereignty.
“We have forbidden them from doing it for a month. But now they [the Vietnamese soldiers] have finished the foundations and are working on the shape,” he said.
Authorities report that the land border between Cambodia and Vietnam is 1,270 kilometers long. In March, National Police officials claimed that 89 percent of the demarcation had been completed after they had planted 282 border posts from a total of 314 along the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
Prime Minister Hun Sen recently spoke on the issue, writing on Facebook on Tuesday that the government had to speed up the border demarcation process to avoid any further confusion over land rights, which are in question in many border provinces because land is often sold or rented to Vietnamese nationals.
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