Vietnamese police traded blows with about 100 farmers from the ethnic Khmer Krom minority in the southern Mekong Delta region last week, the latest violent clash over land rights in the Southeast Asian country.
Witnesses told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that 10 farmers were injured May 5, as the police descended on the land in Kien Giang province’s Phu My district to confiscate digging vehicles, with police using batons and tear gas, and the Khmer Krom farmers hitting back with rods and mud.
Video posted on Facebook documented the violence at Giang Thanh commune, which broke out when the police attempted to remove the digger belonging to the family of local Khmer Krom farmer Huynh Van Dat as he and other farmers were planting crops.
The government claims the land is part of a conservation area, but the Khmer Krom say they have been farming the paddies since the 1970s.
“They came and took the people’s digging vehicles and stopped them from working,” a witness who requested anonymity to speak freely told RFA.
“They said the people were digging illegally on state land. The people protested and tried to stop them from taking the digger,” said the source.
According to the witness, the police began beating people in the crowd, leaving 10 of them with head injuries or broken arms and legs.
RFA contacted Huynh Vin Lac, the head of the provincial office and spokesperson for the people’s committee, but he refused to comment on the May 5 violence over the phone, saying that he would only discuss the matter in writing.
RFA then sent inquiries via text message to his phone and an email to the people’s committee, but they went unanswered.
According to local sources, the Khmer Krom had freely farmed on the land from the 1970s to the year 2000, when many went to work as hired laborers.
They recently decided to cultivate on the tract of land again, but local authorities informed them that the land is now part of a conservation area.
A 2018 report by an NGO focusing on international ethnic minority rights said the Khmer Krom, ethnic Cambodians living in Vietnam, face “a long-lasting repression fed by the economic interests in the region, the religious differences with the national government and the fear from the latter of seeing a divergent and influential political force emerge.”
“These assimilation campaigns mostly consist on a daily basis in religious repression and severe restrictions of their individual and collective freedoms,” said the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, which describes religious and language restrictions.
“Authorities have no consideration for the Khmer Krom religious norms as they do not hesitate to defrock monks that they consider as threats. More concretely, authorities can use violence to suppress protests or attempts to raise awareness about their cause and they can arrest monks and activists without any notice nor trial and sentence them to jail,” the group said
In 2013 RFA reported that according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) the Khmer Krom faced 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.
In 2007, the Vietnamese government suppressed protests by over 200 ethnic Khmer Buddhist monks in Suc Trang who were calling for religious freedom and more Khmer-language education.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.