The banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Tuesday vowed to back Khmer Kampuchea Krom in their quest for self-determination in Vietnam and recovery of territory ceded by France to Vietnam in 1949.
The CNRP support came as at least 2,000 ethnic Khmer Krom and a representative of King Sihamoni participated in a Buddhist ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of losing Khmer Kampuchea Krom to Vietnam.
“Vietnamese occupation over Khmer Kampuchea Krom territory is illegal. No Cambodian agreed to hand over the land to Vietnam,” the CNRP statement read.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua told RFA’s Khmer Service that if the party wins power it will seek self-determination rights to Khmer Kampuchea Krom and demand the Khmer Krom territory back.
“When the CNRP leads the government, we will bring this matter to the world stage. We will work to defend Khmer Krom rights which means we are demanding self-determination,” she said.
RFA couldn’t reach government spokesman Phay Siphan for comment. But Sok Ey San, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party said on social media “it is a dream to demand Khmer Kampuchea Krom back.”
France, which colonized much of Indochina, officially ceded its Cochinchina colony, which included the former provinces of Kampuchea Krom, to Vietnam in 1949, but the region had been under Vietnamese control since the mid-17th century.
One of the most important seaports of Kampuchea Krom, once called Prey Nokor, is now known as Ho Chi Minh City—the financial hub of Vietnam and one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia.
Since Hanoi took control, the Khmer Krom living in Vietnam—believed to number considerably more than one million and who are ethnically similar to most Cambodians—have increasingly faced social persecution and strict religious controls, human rights groups say.
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation Media officer Son Yoeng Ratana told RFA his organization was studying ideas on how to acquire rights to self-determination. He said that Vietnam’s authoritarian government restricts Khmer Kampuchea Krom rights in all aspects, including access to social media, use of the Khmer language, and religion.
“We are demanding compliance with the UN charter. We are demanding self-determination rights because we are indigenous,” said Son Yoeng Ratana at a 70th anniversary gathering in The Hague, Netherlands at the weekend.
“We are studying before submitting a request to Vietnam for self-determination,” he said.
The CNRP was banned in November 2017 by a court beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen, two months after party leader Kem Sokha was arrested on what his supporters and the international community say are spurious treason charges.
The court’s hobbling of the CNRP in elections last year cleared the way for Hun Sen’s CPP to win all 125 seats being contested, making Cambodia effectively a one-party state.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written by Paul Eckert.