Hundreds of monks and other representatives from Vietnam’s Khmer Krom ethnic minority living in Cambodia held a protest Wednesday calling on Phnom Penh to demand an apology from Hanoi for statements claiming historic ownership over disputed territory, activists said.
They protested outside the Vietnamese embassy and distributed petitions to foreign embassies in the capital Phnom Penh asking that Cambodian Parliament President Heng Samrin extract the apology during his visit to Vietnam next week.
Thach Setha, speaking on behalf of the protesters, said Heng Samrin should take the opportunity to request the Vietnamese government to apologize for a June statement made by an embassy official claiming that Khmer Kampuchea Krom provinces had long been under Vietnam’s control.
The embassy official, Trung Van Thong, had said that Khmer Kampuchea Krom, a region comprising much of present-day southern Vietnam, belonged to Vietnam even before it was officially ceded to it by France in 1949.
“Our petition requests that the President of Parliament bring up the issue with the [Vietnamese] government for faking history,” he said.
The demonstration on Wednesday was the culmination of three days of peaceful protests.
Demonstrators thanked the authorities for letting them hold the protest which began at the popular Freedom Park, recently reopened after being closed for most of the year following deadly violence in the capital.
At the park, they sang nationalist songs and shared and read history books about Khmer Krom territory before part of the group marched to the Vietnamese embassy and other foreign diplomatic missions where they delivered petitions calling for intervention by foreign governments on the territorial dispute.
Protesters submitted petitions to the embassies of Malaysia and Singapore on Wednesday. They had sent similar notes previously to the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia.
Boycott of Vietnamese goods
Demonstrators also appealed to the Cambodian people to boycott Vietnamese goods until Vietnam apologized.
One protester from Kampong Speu province said the gathering also expressed frustration over illegal Vietnamese immigration.
“We want [illegal] [Vietnamese] immigrants to go back to their country,” he said.
The poor treatment and restricted freedom of ethnic Khmer Krom in Vietnam was another issue highlighted by the demonstrators, he explained.
“We demand that the Khmer Krom people living in Khmer Krom territory enjoy the same freedom as Khmer living in Cambodia because Kampuchea Krom is also part of Khmer land,” he stated.
France’s Cochinchina colony, which included the former provinces of Kampuchea Krom, was officially ceded to Vietnam in 1949, but 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, according to rights groups.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said the Khmer Krom face serious restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese government has banned Khmer Krom human rights publications and tightly controls the practice of Theravada Buddhism by the minority group, which sees the religion as a foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity.
On the other side of the border, the Khmer Krom who leave Vietnam for Cambodia remain one of the country’s “most disenfranchised groups,” Human Rights Watch said.
Because they are often perceived as Vietnamese by Cambodians, many Khmer Krom in Cambodia face social and economic discrimination.
They also face hurdles in legalizing their status in the country as authorities have failed to grant many Khmer Krom citizenship or residence rights despite promises to treat them as Cambodian citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.