A nongovernmental organization in Cambodia on Wednesday called on the country’s Interior Ministry to intervene in the eviction of more than 2,000 ethnic Vietnamese living on the Tonle Sap Lake, saying land demarcated for their relocation lacks the infrastructure necessary to support them.
Authorities have said that 2,300 ethnic Vietnamese will be moved from their “floating village” on the lake and settled on land about one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) away in Kampong Chhnang province, while other families will be relocated to the province’s Rolea B'ier district, where media reports say a local Vietnamese association has bought land for them to live on.
Khmer-Vietnamese Association President Sim Chi told RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview Wednesday that the sites lack infrastructure such as a hospital or medical clinic, as well as access to water and electricity, and that the impoverished villagers can’t afford to set up such services on their own.
He noted that Kampong Chhnang provincial authorities began relocating the villagers early last month and expect to complete the move by the end of the year.
“I’ve asked the Interior Ministry to intervene in the case—we want the ministry to give the villagers some time until the provincial authorities have built enough infrastructure at the new location,” he said.
Addressing comments made Tuesday by government spokesman Phay Siphan, who said authorities will also review the status of Vietnamese families moved from the lake to ensure they are legally present in Cambodia, Sim Chi told RFA that the villagers had lived in the country “for a long time.”
Members of their families born in Cambodia began registering for permanent residential status in the country in 2014, he added.
While Sim Chi refused to comment on whether authorities plan to force villagers found to be living illegally in Cambodia to return to Vietnam, he noted that anyone living in Cambodia for more than seven years is entitled to apply for citizenship.
“These ethnic Vietnamese have been living in Cambodia for many generations,” he said.
The move to evict the residents of the “floating village” follows a campaign two years ago that saw thousands repatriated to Vietnam from their homes on the Tonle Sap, where global warming and overfishing have reduced the seasonal inflow and outflow of water on the environmentally threatened lake.
On Wednesday, Pot Kimsruoy, the president of Kampong Chhnang-based nongovernmental organization Ethnic Rights Protection, told RFA he welcomed government efforts to protect the environment, but echoed Sim Chi’s concerns about relocating the villagers to an undeveloped site.
“This is a forced relocation,” he said, adding that when the government agrees to accept immigrants, it must protect their basic rights.
Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Chhour Chan Dern refused to comment Wednesday when contacted by RFA about the planned relocation.
Animosity between Vietnam and Cambodia goes back centuries, but was heightened by the Vietnamese war in 1979 that ousted Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and paved the way for long-ruling prime minister Hun Sen’s ascension to power.
Accusations over the demarcation of the border between Vietnam and Cambodia have become a prominent feature in Cambodian politics as Hun Sen’s opponents have attempted to paint the strong man as a tool of the Vietnamese.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.