Cambodia Vows to Bring Perpetrators of ‘Racist’ Killing to Justice

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Ngoc’s wife Men Sinath speaks to RFA in Phnom Penh, Feb. 19, 2014.
Ngoc’s wife Men Sinath speaks to RFA in Phnom Penh, Feb. 19, 2014.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. ET on 2014-2-26

Cambodian authorities on Thursday gave assurances they would carry out a thorough investigation into the beating death of a Vietnamese man in what is believed to have been a racially-motivated attack, following concerns expressed by the Vietnamese government.

Tran Van Chien, 30, was chased and attacked by a group of some 20 Cambodians last week after he responded to a call for help from his brother, who witnesses told RFA’s Khmer Service had rear-ended a car with his motorbike while “driving under the influence.”

Reports 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.

Following the incident, Vietnamese authorities called for an immediate inquiry into the death of Chien, who 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 news reports.

On Thursday, Cambodian Internal Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gen. Khieu Sopheak responded to the request by the Vietnamese Embassy, saying that the court is “working on the case” and that those responsible “will be prosecuted according to the law.”

Suspect Bun Chanvutha, 52, is now in custody for allegedly inciting the mob to attach Chien, though “more suspects may also be involved in the killing,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“We are very saddened by this incident,” Khieu Sopheak said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Koy Koung refused to comment on the investigation but said that the government is “providing equal protection for all people regardless of their nationalities.”

Vietnam Embassy spokesman Tran Van Thong told RFA Thursday that his government was satisfied with Cambodia’s response to the situation, adding that Vietnamese in Cambodia feel protected by the authorities.

He said that the incident had not affected diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Those who discriminate against Vietnamese [in Cambodia] make up only a small group of people,” Thong said.

“These people have incited others to be racists, but the international community and [the majority of] people in Cambodia condemn such actions,” he said.

Thong said that the Vietnamese government had “no concerns” about the way that Cambodia was handling the incident.

Allegations of incitement

Khieu Sopheak reiterated his earlier claims that ethnic tensions in Cambodia were linked to policies of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), who he said had “incited Cambodians against Vietnamese.”

“The term [yuon] has been used by the CNRP’s leaders,” he said. “Racism is not good for the current situation.”

He urged the public to avoid discriminating against the Vietnamese in the country, but added that “in general people don’t do such things—only certain groups who support the CNRP,” without providing further details.

Also speaking to RFA, CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha condemned last week’s mob killing.

“The killings on public streets have led Cambodia into misery,” he said, urging the public to refrain from any kind of violence.

Kem Sokha said that CNRP policy “does not discriminate against any nationalities.”

Joint statement

Also on Thursday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO) issued a joint statement denouncing Chien’s death and calling for a “thorough and independent investigation” into the case.

“We … condemn this cruel killing which we fear is an act of racially motivated violence against a Vietnamese person in Cambodia,” the statement said.

The groups pointed to an incident that occurred on Jan. 3 in the capital Phnom Penh which, according to an investigation by MIRO, involved the looting and burning of Vietnamese-run shops after deadly clashes between garment workers demanding an increase in salary and military police.

They said that the shop owners had not yet been compensated for the assaults, which they called “presumably racially motivated.”

In the statement, CCHR and MIRO noted that Cambodia is a signatory party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

“As human rights organizations, we strongly object to repeated acts of violence in Cambodian society that apparently are based on racial prejudices,” the statement said.

“Therefore, we urge the authorities to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the killing … in order to find justice for the victim and his family,” it said.

“At the same time, we also call for all Cambodian people to respect the human rights of other ethnicities and refrain from all kinds of racial violence so that we can live together in harmony and peace.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect nationality and name for the victim.

Comments (10)


from Massachusetts, USA

No one deserved to die because lives are very precious, but those who are so bad to the bones, are the one that should be punished and perished. Anyway, feel bad to the family victim. Who committed crime in any picture, will be prosecuted by the law, but not for the Vietnamese government to use that word as Racist. If in America, this word is so strong and the law is so strict about it. Mr. Hun Sen should step up to defend Cambodia so the dignity of the nation should not be classified as a lower value.

Feb 25, 2014 05:36 PM


from Massachusetts, USA

What happened during that day between Vietnamese man and Cambodian men, I couldn't believe that they claimed as racist.
When I came to America in 1980, I was living in the black people neighborhood and a three of the youngsters hit and kicked
my friend, I ran out for help and said the "black" people are beating my friend. Here or in the movie, they used the word
black or white people and it is normal. So, that man screamed that Vietnamese beating Khmer, is okay to say and
I really don't see as racist. If the other party claimed as racist, the government must take a quick action to respond and protect
the value of Cambodia because again, this world should not be used at all when it is not right. If the government scare, that also
signify that Cambodian as a whole are the same. That is how they look down on us because they were labeling us like a price
tag that put on clothes.

Feb 25, 2014 05:09 PM

Thang Buom

from Some where in us

Who killed Chea Vichia? Can someone investigating this. I think he is a human too. He had the right to live as everybody.

Feb 24, 2014 08:03 PM


from Wellington

Seems like the Govt is acting really quick and pay very close attention to this tragedy. I won't be surprise if they resolve this issue in a short period of time and as for the other killings, the cases will still be sitting at the bottom of their to-do list.

Feb 23, 2014 07:08 PM

Anonymous Reader

Now you know it is so sad to see Khmer so cheap so low, ask Mr Nguyen Tan Dung how many Khmer Krom that Vietnamese has been killing them. Don't worry Mr Nguyen Tan Dung We treat you just as you treat us.

Feb 22, 2014 02:39 AM

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