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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian? The ID issue

Cambodian? The ID issue

The new Cambodian identification card system will lead to Vietnamese in Cambodia

being labelled as illegal immigrants even if they have lived here for 20 years, according

to the Ministry of the Interior.

The new ID system, introduced late last year, replaced the registration papers issued

by UNTAC and previous governments as proof of Cambodian citizenship.

Ministry of the Interior figures indicated that some 54 per cent of the population,

mainly in provincial areas, had already received copies of "family books,"

records that have to be established before ID cards are issued.

Thus far, only 10,000 cards had been issued - all to civil servants in Phnom Penh.

The process so far had been financed by a $3.6 million loan, with the ID documentation

being printed in China.

"The new ID will be given only to persons who are really Khmer," said Ouk

Kim Lek, Director of the Administrative Police Department at the Ministry of the

Interior. Vietnamese who had lived in the country since 1979 were not entitled to

be called Cambodians.

"The old ID and old family records cannot be exchanged for the new ones, because

the old ID has been sold to aliens and some have been illegally issued by bad policemen,"

Lek claimed.

He said a lot of Vietnamese had complained that they were Cambodian citizens and

had asked for the new ID and family book in exchange for the old ID or registration

papers issued by previous governments and UNTAC, but the old documents were not enough

to prove they were Cambodian.

Under the new system, those wanting a family book are interviewed about their "Khmer

background" or their "Khmer history" by "The Committee",

a group including the local commune chief, the chief of the local police post, and

the village chief, Lek said.

The results of these interviews are published so people can appeal the committee's

decisions to the courts.

Proof of being Cambodian included those who were born of Khmer parents/grandparents

and aliens who had become naturalized Khmers by Royal Decree.

The law also said foreigners qualified if they invested at least 1.25 billion Riel

in Cambodia or donated at least 1 billion Riel to the national budget.

In any case, aliens had to speak, read and write Khmer and know some of the country's

history.

Many Vietnamese in Cambodia were, however, poor and knew nothing about Khmer history.

Numerous stories, some humorous and others disturbing, have emerged with the enforcement

of the new ID rules.

It was difficult for Vietnamese to convince police they were Cambodian when their

clothes, facial features and accent betrayed the fact that they were Vietnamese.

In one anecdotal case, a Vietnamese was asked for the location of Angkor Wat.

"Angkor Wat nouv boung beu," the person replied, indicating the temple

was in Kampong Speu province. Not only did this show the person did not know the

basics of Cambodia's history, they also used the standard Vietnamese pronunciation

of Kampong Speu - "boung beu."

Deputy Director of the Police Administration Department, Lim Mauv, confirmed the

above story and said it might have come from Chba Ampov district near Phnom Penh

in the 1990s.

The new interview system was an improvement on the old way of doing things, but there

was already evidence of corruption creeping in, Mauv said.

He had heard that foreigners were buying family books for around US$1,000. The old

identification documentation had typically been on sale for about $20. There was

also a problem with police not passing on the full fee for the new family books to

the Ministry of the Interior.

Family books and related documentation cost about 6,000 Riel.

Finally, people had different ideas about identifying Cambodian citizens. Some people

say it is easy to identify people who are Cambodian by just looking at their face

or listening to them speak, but Nao Thouk, Deputy Director of the Fishery Department,

said "People who do not eat Prahok are not Khmer."

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