Cambodian Opposition Lawmaker Held Amid Border Map Dispute

Authorities in Phnom Penh continue to hold opposition lawmaker Um Sam An and are expected to interrogate him for at least another day, officials tell RFA’s Khmer Service.

The lawmaker was arrested around midnight on Sunday in Siem Reap after he arrived in the country, according to authorities. Um Sam Am told reporters he is being held because of his criticism of the government’s Vietnam border policy.

Um Sam An and the CNRP have angered Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party, accusing them of giving Khmer land to Vietnam. The land dispute has been a potent political issue for the CNRP.

“He said the maps [of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam] are fake,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak. “Authorities arrested him because he committed obvious crimes.”

U.S. concern

The arrest sparked expressions of condemnation from the CNRP and concern from Washington as Um Sam An is also a U.S. citizen.

U.S Embassy Deputy Spokesman Courtney Woods said the U.S embassy has asked the government of Cambodia to explain Um Sam An’s arrest because the lawmaker is a U.S citizen.

“We have called upon the Cambodian government to explain the charges against Mr. Um and to provide the embassy consular access,” Woods wrote in an email to RFA. “The Department of State takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services.”

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay told RFA that the government was once again abusing lawmakers’ constitutional immunity privileges.

“A lawmaker has the right to address all issues, not only the border issue,” he told RFA. “All rights are protected by the constitution.”

Son Chhay added that Um Sam An didn’t commit any obvious crimes that can be prosecuted.

“Talking about border issue, showing images or express opinions are not obvious crimes,” he said. “The CNRP can’t accept this kind of abuse.”

Disputed maps

In 2015, the government matched a map from France issued prior to Cambodian independence in 1953 and a set of 1964 maps from the United Nations delineating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam to its own official chart to dispel allegations that it was giving Vietnam land.

Afterwards, Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone who accused the government of using “fake” maps and ceding national territory amid an ongoing political dispute over the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam.

The move came after Cambodia’s parliament voted to strip opposition senator Hong Sok Hour of his immunity, prompting criticism from rights groups, after Hun Sen accused him of treason for posting a disputed diplomatic document online relating to the Cambodia’s border with Vietnam. Hong Sok Hour is awaiting trial on the charges.

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