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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Boat People Turn to Eating Rats

Boat People Turn to Eating Rats

Local human rights groups said living conditions of the Vietnamese boat people stranded

at the southern border had reached a critical stage and some of them had resorted

to killing rodents for food.

"We saw some of the Vietnamese at the border killing mice for food. They live

in the such a poor condition. The emergency situation is that they need food, medical

care and roofs because sometimes it rains," said Kek Galabru, president of LICADO.

The number of the boat people held up at the CV3-B border checkpoint could exceed

30,000, she said.

The groups appealed for urgent aid and stressed that their actions were humanitarian

and that they had no comment to make on the sensitive political question of the ethnic

Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia.

"We urge the two governments to find a solution to the problem. We won't allow

one of them to ignore it, otherwise it will be a violation of human rights,"

said Thun Saren, a representative of the Khmer Krom Association.

The issue of what to do with the fisherman was discussed during the recent state

visit by co-premiers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen to Vietnam but the leaders

of the two countries failed to come to an agreement on the problem. The issue was

left out of the joint communiqué signed at the end of the visit but the two

sides agreed to set up a technical team of experts to look into the cases. Many ethnic

Vietnamese families have lived in Cambodia for generations and carry Cambodian identity

cards.

The human rights activists focused attention on two contentious problems-guarantees

of security for the return of Vietnamese boat people to their habitual residence

and their legal status which must be clearly defined in Cambodia's new constitution.

"There's still a problem how can we stop the Khmer Rouge from killing them when

they kill us also," Kek said.

A joint statement produced by the groups proposed that the Cambodian government give

an opportunity to those Vietnamese families and their descendants who settled in

Cambodia before 1975 to acquire Cambodian citizenship, provided that they have adequate

proof of residency before 1975. In addition to this, Vietnamese migrants to Cambodia

after 1979 should be classified into a category which strictly limits their right

to obtain a residency permit. Regarding this category, the statement puts forward

recommendations calling on Vietnamese authorities to accept them back as citizens

and provide them with appropriate passports or identity papers.

"We believe that Vietnamese who entered Cambodia after 1979 can not claim residency

rights because they entered and settled in Cambodia at a time when Cambodians were

not in control of their country. Moreover, a significant number of the Vietnamese

who entered Cambodia after 1979 were new economic migrants whose entry into the country

might have been better controlled if a different government was in place," the

statement reads.

"Khmer Krom knows about Vietnam better than the people here [in Cambodia],"

Thun Saren said, adding, "As long as Vietnam is independent and peaceful why

should we use the word refugee? I am surprised. We'd better talk about Vietnamese

in Cambodia, but not Vietnamese refugees."

"Cambodia was under the control of Vietnam for a long time, that's why Vietnamese

came in such large numbers," he added.

The Vietnam invasion of Cambodia in 1978 resulted in the installation of the former

pro-Hanoi government which relaxed all border crossing procedures for Vietnamese

citizens. Thousands of them were compelled to leave Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge

launched and ethnic cleansing campaign during which more the 100 Vietnamese were

massacred.

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