Prime Minister Hun Sen has written to the UN Secretary-General to request maps that would help border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam.
The request comes following a clash between pro-opposition activists and Vietnamese security personnel near the border in Svay Rieng province last month.
The maps that Cambodia currently uses in border talks with Vietnam are highly controversial, as is any dealing in general with the border, which in many places remains unsettled, despite years of demarcation talks. Meanwhile, villagers along the border claim encroachment by Vietnam.
Cambodia has over the centuries lost land to its larger, more powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, and encroachment issues tend to provoke strong nationalistic fervor among many everyday Cambodians.
That makes it a hot button issue for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has in the past included anti-Vietnamese rhetoric to its politics.
Last Thursday, Var Kimhong, who chairs Cambodia’s border committee, spent over two hours demonstrating the maps currently in use to demarcate the border with Vietnam. Rescue Party lawmakers who joined the conference said those maps were not the same as those used by the United Nations.
On Monday, Hun Sen wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying he was requesting the UN maps—delivered to the UN by late King Norodom Sihanouk in 1964—to quell potential “extreme nationalism and ill intent” from “confused” public opinion.
UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko on Tuesday confirmed that Ban had received the letter. “We are studying it for now,” she said.
Rescue Party lawmaker Um Sam An, who was among those injured in last months’ border scuffle, applauded Hun Sen’s request, but he said it should have been made a long time ago. The request “means the current map being used is not correct,” he said.
He urged the government to put together a bipartisan committee, along with UN mapping experts, to resolve the border demarcation issue.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Hun Sen’s request was made to end public confusion, but he said a bipartisan committee was unlikely. “Border demarcation is a government duty, which is not involved with political parties,” he said. “We have to make this clear.”