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.”
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.