Updated at 10:45 a.m. ET on 2014-2-26
Vietnamese authorities called Tuesday for an investigation into the beating death of a Vietnamese man following a traffic accident in Phnom Penh that has raised ethnic tensions.
Tran Van Chien, 30, was chased and attacked by a group of Cambodians after he responded to a call for help from a neighbor whose motorbike had been struck by a car, according to Cambodian media reports.
Witnesses said the crowd had been incited to action by shouts of “yuon,” a derogatory term for Vietnamese in Cambodia, where ethnic tensions sometimes rise high amid competing territorial claims and immigration concerns.
Chien had scuffled briefly with a Cambodian family unable to move their car past the motorbike, which had been left parked in an alley, before he was pursued and killed, according to a Cambodia Daily report on Tuesday.
Tran Van Thong, a spokesman for the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh, called for an immediate inquiry into the death.
“We demand that the authorities investigate and bring the killers to justice and hold them accountable according to Cambodian law,” Thong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Meanwhile, we ask for measures to be taken to prevent such racist activities or any instigation of racism or discrimination against Vietnamese in Cambodia,” he said.
“We want an investigation,” Thong said in a separate interview with RFA’s Khmer Service, adding, “The Cambodian government must ensure that no killing like this ever happens again.”
Killed over a word
Chien’s pregnant wife said she was shocked that one derogatory word could lead to her husband’s death.
“I didn’t believe that my husband would be killed over this word,” Chien’s wife Men Sinath, eight months’ pregnant, told the Cambodia Daily on Tuesday.
“He was born in Cambodia. He lived all his life in Cambodia. He has a Cambodian wife and soon a Cambodian baby, but he was killed for being Vietnamese?”
A deputy police chief of Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Loeu commune said a suspect in the killing, 52-year-old Bun Chanvutha, is now in custody and “will face the law,” the report said.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Cambodian Internal Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gen. Khieu Sopheak blamed ethnic tensions in Cambodia on the policies of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which have led, he said, to “misunderstandings” between Vietnamese and Cambodians.
“Our [own] government policy is nondiscriminating,” Sopheak told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, calling Vietnam and Cambodia “good neighbors.”
Also speaking to RFA, CNRP spokesperson Nem Panharith denied party responsibility for exacerbating tensions between the two groups, blaming the incident instead on the Cambodian public’s “lack of confidence in our court system.”
“The government needs to stop violence on the streets,” he said.
Wary over influence
Many Cambodians are wary of Vietnam’s influence over their country’s affairs.
An estimated 1.7 million people, or one in four Cambodians, died in what came to be called the “Killing Fields” after the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. The regime was unseated when Vietnam invaded the country four years later.
Vietnam occupied the country for a decade before withdrawing its troops and signing the Paris Peace Agreement to restore sovereignty and stability to Cambodia.
Reported by Yeang Socheameata for RFA’s Khmer Service and by Quoc Viet for the Vietnamese Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect nationality and name for the victim.