Despite Obstacles, CNRP Activists Reach Border

KOMPONG RO DISTRICT, Svay Rieng province – With about 2,500 people in tow, opposition lawmaker Real Camerin on Sunday returned to the paddies along this remote stretch of Cambodia’s eastern border, where he says Vietnamese civilians beat him last month as he led a trip to a disputed border marker.

Meeting at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park at 5 a.m., Mr. Camerin and the burgeoning group of mostly young supporters took part in a brief Buddhist ceremony before filing into dozens of waiting vans.

A row of Cambodian men armed with wooden clubs stand in front of Cambodian soldiers about a kilometer from the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province, where they confronted hundreds of activists who were led to the area by a group of opposition lawmakers Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)
A row of Cambodian men armed with wooden clubs stand in front of Cambodian soldiers about a kilometer from the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province, where they confronted hundreds of activists who were led to the area by a group of opposition lawmakers Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)

Poor logistics and monsoon rains slowed the group, which arrived in Svay Rieng province about noon and —moving at a crawl over narrow and potholed clay roads—in Kompong Ro district after 2 p.m.

Yet the long journey did not appear to phase the activists, who stepped out of the vans onto sodden village roads at a police roadblock in Kompong Ro. Pushing to the front of the crowd, Mr. Camerin called over the police commander to negotiate his group’s passage.

“If they listen to what we say, and we listen to what they say, everybody will be happy and healthy,” a grinning Mr. Camerin told his supporters.

With the commander acquiescing to the CNRP lawmaker, the march began to border post 203 and the fallow rice fields where the Vietnamese civilians, backed by Vietnamese soldiers, clashed with Mr. Camerin’s last delegation—one tenth the size—on June 28.

After walking across the paddies for 45 minutes, the group reached a narrow body of water—well inside Cambodian territory—where Mr. Camerin says he was beaten by the Vietnamese.

Cambodian soldiers and military police, both armed with rifles, were waiting for the activists. Together with a menacing row of plainclothes thugs holding wooden clubs, they sent a clear message that the group could not venture beyond the watercourse.

While the area is about a kilometer away from border post 203, Mr. Camerin last week agreed with provincial authorities that his group would stop there and send only 100 representatives onward to inspect the marker.

The row of Cambodian men with clubs—blocking the only feasible path around the water and backed by dozens of soldiers—jeered at the 100 people Mr. Camerin eventually chose.

From left: CNRP lawmakers Un Sam An, Real Camerin and Cheam Channy pose while standing on border post 203 on Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)
From left: CNRP lawmakers Un Sam An, Real Camerin and Cheam Channy pose while standing on border post 203 on Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)

Gesturing that they would not allow the group to pass, a brief scuffle broke out as the thugs converged on the group of opposition supporters, halting their march through the muck.

“They have batons, we do not,” a young organizer said, pleading for the group not to press on.

The scuffle was over quickly, as organizers linked arms to pull the group of 100 back to safety. Some asked why the now visibly angry men were doing Vietnam’s bidding by preventing their movement on Cambodian territory.

With organizers holding back the crowd of 2,500 from descending onto the small patch of land where the tension was mounting, a single police officer stepped between the two sides, apparently soothing the club-wielding men and soldiers.

Counting each of the people who passed, the police officer allowed the activists to cross the line and toward the border post.

After the activists sloshed through fields of paddy under cultivation, armed Vietnamese soldiers watched as they reached border post 203—dead in the center of a rice field.

Climbing onto the three-meter concrete marker, and accompanied by fellow CNRP lawmakers Um Sam An, Cheam Channy and Nuth Rumduol, Mr. Camerin told the crowd that the border post had been placed there improperly.

“Today is a historic day for Cambodia,” Mr. Camerin said to cheers.

“We can show that they have placed [this post] illegally, by only one side and through the barrel of a gun,” he said, referring to Vietnam. “We will use what we have seen today to compare with the real maps now in our hands.”

“This is a contested ‘white zone,’ but the Yuon can grow their rice here, while the Cambodian people cannot even walk on this land,” he said, using a term for Vietnamese people that is often considered derogatory.

“This post has come at least 1 km into our territory,” added Mr. Sam An during a brief speech, before calling on the group to head back.

With Kompong Ro’s clay roads in worse condition than earlier in the day, it was past 8 p.m. when the dozens of vans reached Svay Rieng City and headed back to Phnom Penh.

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