April 17, 2021

Cambodians Say Vietnamese Forced Them Off Family Land

Vietnamese authorities, some carrying arms, have suddenly begun preventing Cambodian citizens from cultivating family farms that lie along the border between the two nations, local residents tell RFA's Khmer Service.

While the family plots straddle the border between the two countries, Cambodian residents tell RFA they have been farming them for years without interference.

"Although the border marker was placed inside my plot of land, I could still farm it in the past, but now they don't allow me to do that," Keo Sanea told RFA on Monday.

Keo Sanea said the Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities placed border marker 198 about 20 meters inside the three-hectare plot of land that makes up her family's farm in 2009, but that the two countries had agreed to allow families to farm the land that historically crossed the border.

That is until 2017, when Vietnamese authorities this month prohibited her from cultivating the land on Vietnam's side of the border near the Svay Rieng province's Kok Tek village.

Keo Sanea is not the only Cambodian resident who said that Vietnamese authorities were forcing her to quit the cross-border cultivation.

A Seng Mao village farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that about 20 armed Vietnamese border guards stopped her family from farming and cultivating on their rice paddies and confiscated their harvest.

The farmer said her family has been cultivating and farming rice on their plots of land since 1992 without interference from the Vietnamese.

"Nowadays, I worry that perhaps I cannot get my land back, because the border line already cut off my land," one farmer told RFA.

'I lost my land left from my ancestors'

Another said that the family had been farming the same land for generations.

"I lost my land left from my ancestors," said that farmer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "This place is my rice paddy."

On January 8, more than 30 Cambodian youth border activists accompanied by local residents visited the border between markers 147 and 148, located near Svay Rieng province's Thnar Thnung commune.

There, at least 10 Cambodian families said they lost rice paddies ranging in size from 2 to 7 hectares to Vietnam.

Both the residents and border activists said that existing maps of the area show that Cambodian territory bulged into Vietnam, but the border demarcated bilaterally by Cambodia and Vietnam runs in a straight line.

Cambodian landowners told RFA they have seen Vietnamese authorities stop Cambodian residents from farming, prompting officials from both sides into talks.

After the negotiations, Vietnamese authorities asked the farmers to suspend their cultivation until after the Cambodian national elections in 2018.

Var Kim Hong, who heads Cambodia's border affairs committee, told RFA that residents are allowed to cultivate cross-border plots of land according to their past practices.

"I have yet to receive any news regarding this issue from the Svay Reang working group," he said.

Border politics

Kim Sok, a social development and political observer active on border issues, told RFA that Vietnam often makes small border incursions.

"They placed border markers, dug ponds, constructed buildings inside Cambodia," he said. "And there was no strong reaction, so they grabbed the land and banned Cambodian residents from cultivating on their own plots."

The border issue has been a potent political issue for both Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party as the CNRP has criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen for allegedly giving territory to Vietnam, and Hun Sen has retaliated by jailing politicians who have attacked him on the issue.

Vietnam and Cambodia have had a fraught relationship for centuries, but the animosity with Hun Sen dates from the 1979-89 Vietnamese occupation that ended the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen was appointed prime minister during that period when Hanoi had control over Cambodia.

As Cambodian foreign minister and then prime minister, Hun Sen played an important role in the 1991 Paris Peace Talks that brokered peace among Cambodia's warring factions.

The border dispute has also vexed Vietnam as the two countries have been working to complete demarcation of the border for more than two decades.

In November, however, Hun Sen and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed ask the government of France, the former colonial ruler of Cambodia and Vietnam, for assistance in finally settling the long-festering dispute.

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