Opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressed about 100 Cambodian-Americans in Seattle on Monday night, claiming he remains committed to what he calls a struggle against the “swallowing” of Cambodian land along the border allowed by the current administration.
The courts have issued an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, who remains in exile and is already facing at least 2 years in jail on charges stemming from the uprooting of border markers near Vietnam, in Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district. He now faces charges for the publication of a map on the Sam Rainsy Party website that alleges the loss of land.
“I pulled one, then a Vietnamese nearby, he pulled one out, as he knew it was wrong,” Sam Rainsy said, referring to the October 2009 incident. “Now the measure of another 300 [posts] are all wrong, so [they] are fearful that I’ve touched the breath, touched the heart, life, of the communist regime in Cambodia.”
Sam Rainsy, who is on a US tour to build political support, said he was not confronting Prime Minister Hun Sen, but rather Vietnam.
“I’m certainly confronting Vietnam, because when I pulled out the border posts on Oct. 25, 2009, the authorities in Phnom Penh were very quiet,” he said. “No reaction. Nothing happened. And the reaction out of Hanoi when they learned that it was touching Vietnam’s heart, touching the policy of the invasion of Vietnam, then Vietnam got angry.”
The Vietnamese “tried to cheat, they try to propagandize, [saying] that they came to liberate Cambodia, that they came to help the Khmers,” he said. “Help what? Come to swallow our land.”
The border encroachment, he said, was a “trick.”
“Now when we catch it, there is reaction from Hanoi, not from ordinary people, but Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung reacted himself,” Sam Rainsy said. “This is a very big problem. Vietnam’s prime minister reacted from Hanoi, asking Sam Rainsy to be condemned. Why did you yourself in Vietnam order Hun Sen to arrest Sam Rainsy? Until Vietnam made the order from Hanoi, then followed the order, but I will not back off what I have done and will continue to do it.”
A spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the statements immediately, asking that questions be sent for a later reply.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called Sam Rainsy’s comments an instigation of racial discrimination and “sabotage” of the relations between the neighboring countries.
“I’m not really impressed,” Phay Siphan said. “Such language is a strategy to raise suffering, look down on nationalities, or create war with neighbors that counters our constitution, which says the Kingdom of Cambodia lives with its neighbors in co-existence. That’s our policy. What is a conflict, we do not want, but what is resolution through cooperation and a good relationship, that is the goal of Cambodia.”
Phay Siphan denied that Cambodia was under the control of the Vietnamese and said the country has its own independent institutions, including the National Assembly, king and elected government. He also rejected claims that court action was taken against Sam Rainsy at the behest of the Vietnamese government.
In public statements, Nguyen Tan Dung called for Cambodia to take action against Sam Rainsy after the uprooting of the border posts and to ensure such action would not take place again.
Sam Rainsy has said his protests against Vietnam and government followed complaints from villages in Chantrea district who asked for help in what they said was land encroachment from Vietnam.
Cambodia and Vietnam signed a treaty in 2005 that some experts say caused a loss of territory for Cambodia. Sam Rainsy has said he has evidence that the border posts he removed were in fact 300 to 500 meters inside Cambodia’s actual boundary.
Phay Siphan said Monday Sam Rainsy should speak to the court and claimed the government has properly demarcated the border. Only a court can say who is right or wrong, he said.
“Now that he’s been charged with displaying a fake document, he himself has an obligation to speak to the court, through any action or means, that’s his business,” Phay Siphan said. “But it’s regretful that he still walks around and speaks about it in this manner, without clear knowledge [of the fact], as a member of parliament.”
Sean Pengse, a border expert who lives in France and has been traveling with Sam Rainsy to explain the border issue, said the problem stems from the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia using US and Vietnamese maps, not the French map at the UN.
“We recognize the French map,” he said. “Why do we not use it? Why use the American and Vietnamese maps, which are different scales, too?”
On Monday, Sam Rainsy also criticized the government’s policy on illegal immigration, corruption, lengthy land concessions to foreigners and election fraud.
Sinuon Hem, a resident of nearby Tacoma who attended Monday night’s talk, said she was happy Sam Rainsy had raised the border issue and said she supported democrats who help people live in peace.
“I think it’s time to raise the issue, to remind the conscience of the Cambodian children to stand up and unite and love each other among Khmer,” she said.
The border issue remains a main political platform for the Sam Rainsy Party, as the government seeks to complete border demarcation with Vietnam by 2012. Thailand’s political crisis has halted demarcation attempts along that border.