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Commission Head Faces Lawmakers on Border Issue

The head of the Cambodian Border Commission faced the National Assembly on Thursday and sharp criticism from an opposition lawmaker, as he sought to clarify Cambodia’s border policy.

Var Kimhong addressed the National Assembly at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week. But on the floor of the Assembly, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay derided him for failing to answer whether Vietnamese had been encroaching on farmland in Svay Rieng province.

Farmers in Chantrea district met with opposition officials earlier this month to show where they thought the border had been encroached, prompting a letter from the opposition to Hun Sen requesting clarification of the border.

Hun Sen sent Var Kimhong to the National Assembly, where he spent nearly four hours Thursday explaining border laws, legal procedures, technical and equipment issues and the competence of his commission’s experts.

What he did not do, Son Chhay said, was explain where the border in Chantrea district lies, as he had requested in a letter to Hun Sen.

“If you don’t answer my question directly, we are very upset with your clarification,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this interview for nearly four hours. So, please answer my question.”

Var Kimhong replied: “Maybe you forgot what you wrote in your letter. So your memory is not so long.”

“I’m not a politician,” Var Kimhong continued. “I don’t want to take the border issue to speculate as a political issue. I want Cambodia to have the real border, a concrete border, for the future. If we have no border, our neighbors will encroach upon us.”

Cambodia faces a number of contested border issues with neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, and encroachment is a divisive political issue for many Cambodians, who fear that without clear demarcation the country loses land to both.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is facing criminal charges of incitement and destruction of property for allegedly leading villagers in Chantrea district to dislodge border demarcation on sites villagers say are being encroached on.