PHNOM PENH - After Prime Minister Hun Sen’s appearance Thursday before the National Assembly to explain his border policy, many Cambodians in Phnom Penh say believe no land has been lost to Vietnam.
Hun Sen had encouraged people to watch his remarks, which lasted for five hours and were broadcast live on state TV, as he addressed concerns that border agreements had ceded land to Cambodia’s neighbor to the east.
He explained that in some respective areas in Cambodia and Vietnam, villages had been swapped and land had been exchanged, but that on the whole, no land had been lost. Hun Sen also said that Cambodians are occupying more than 2,100 hectares of land that rightfully belongs to Vietnam, while Vietnamese are living on nearly 1,000 hectares of land that rightfully belongs to Cambodia, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
In the streets of Phnom Penh, where many had stopped to listen to at least part of the speech, Hun Sen’s words found a lot of support. Civil servants told local media they had been ordered to watch the marathon speech, as public services ground to a halt in the capital. The Cambodia Daily reported that 200 families saw the delay by a day of their eviction in the neighborhood of Choam Chao.
“I’ve heard that we cut land to Vietnam and that Prime Minister Hun Sen is a puppet of Vietnam, but I think that he’s not like that,” said student Sok Khasady, 21, who have having breakfast at an internet cafe Friday morning.
Koch Nop, a traffic policeman, said he believed the premier. “Our land has not been lost to Vietnam,” he said.
Though Hun Sen gave his statement to National Assembly lawmakers, none were allowed to question him, which is the normal procedure for parliamentarians.
In stark contrast Hun Sen’s assertions, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Cambodia is in fact ceding land to Vietnam, telling “Hello VOA” on Thursday that villagers who live along the border know the truth.
“I always visit them, [parliamentarians] of Sam Rainsy always go to visit them, and all of them say the same thing, that they are losing their lands, farms, forests,” Sam Rainsy said. “I believe the local people, I believe the victims.”
Sam Rainsy, who is in the US to find support for a new opposition coalition, remains in exile, despite the approach of national elections next year. He faces at least 10 years in prison on a number of charges related to his destruction of border markers in Svay Rieng province in 2009, in a demonstration against land loss.