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Sean Pengse Discusses Cambodian Border Issues on Hello VOA

Border expert Sean Pengse sustains public debate on Cambodia's controversial recent border agreement with Vietnam on VOA Khmer's Hello VOA call-in, talk show, Thursday, October 20, 2005.

Cambodia and Vietnam signed a border agreement this month primarily to legitimize a previous and controversial border treaty the two countries signed in 1985, Sean Pengse, president of the Paris-based Cambodia's Border Committee, told listeners Thursday.

He also challenged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government to explain openly and candidly to the Cambodian people why this border agreement is being pushed and what it means for average Cambodians and the country's territorial integrity.

In a VOA studio in Washington taking calls from listeners, Sean Pengse asserted that because the 1985 treaty has never been recognized by the international community Vietnam has pressured Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government to adopt the new agreement, even though benefits for the poverty-stricken Cambodian nation are unclear. Sean Pengse claimed the 1985 treaty is "detrimental" to the interests of Cambodia, ceding to Vietnam significant portions of land and maritime area that historically belonged to Cambodia.

Sean Pengse, a former minister of mines, energy and industry in Cambodia before the communists took over in 1975 and one of today's pre-eminent experts on Cambodia's troubled border history, explained that since Vietnam militarily occupied Cambodia from 1979 to 1989, any agreement the two countries entered into during that time is "illegal." Sean Pengse questioned whether the Cambodian government in 1985 possessed the "free will" to genuinely enter into an important agreement with Vietnam.

Sean Pengse, who was charged by a Phnom Penh court last week with defamation for criticism of Cambodian government border policy, said he had not seen or read until Thursday two documents posted the day before on VOA Khmer's website-a recent draft copy of the Cambodian Vietnam border agreement signed this month in Vietnam and an explanatory letter dated Aug. 8 from the Cambodian government's chief border expert, Var Kim Hong. Sean Pengse said that the documents contain "no surprises" and that a quick review confirmed his longtime understanding: that the purpose of this month's agreement was, most importantly to the government of Vietnam and Cambodia, to support their earlier border agreement from 20 years ago.

Sean Pengse called assertions by Prime Minister Hun Sen and others in his government that Cambodia is gaining more than it is losing under terms of the proposed new agreement "absurb." He said "they are only making distractions to cover their deeds."

Cambodia government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told VOA Khmer earlier this week that the agreement is fair and beneficial to Cambodia. Most Cambodian government officials refuse to discuss the agreement or border issues in general.

Additionally, a full and open public discussion about the pros and cons of the proposed new border agreement has not been held in Cambodia by the government, or any other group. Neither the Cambodia government nor the Vietnamese government has made public the official version of the new agreement signed last week.

If Cambodia's government--its National Assembly, Senate and King Norodom Sihamoni--follows up in the coming weeks and ratifies the new agreement signed by the two foreign ministers then an internationally recognized Cambodian government will officially accept the 1985 treaty for the first time, Sean Pengse said.

Answering listeners' questions on the Hello VOA call-in, talk show on Thursday October 20, 2005, Sean Pengse said that under terms of the U.N.-brokered 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which ended more than a decade of civil war, Cambodia is to "terminate all treaties and agreements that are not compatible with its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability, neutrality, and national unity of Cambodia."

A caller identifying himself from Singapore asked Sean Pengse how to solve this border problem. Sean Pengse said the best way to end this problem is to void all the border treaties with Cambodia's neighbors and start new border negotiations based on legitimate documents not based on treaties Vietnam forced Cambodia to sign when it occupied Cambodia.

Sean Pengse, who will travel to Canada and return to the U.S. before arriving back at his home in Paris in late October, asserted that Prime Minister Hun Sen "very well knew" that the existing 1985 border agreement with Vietnam were illegal under the Paris Peace Accords and that all those treaties should be cancelled. However, he said Hun Sen opted not to "void" them because it is, apparently, critical that he maintain "very positive" relations with Vietnam and its leaders. Instead, the guest said, the premier formed a national border commission to handle border issues.