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,"
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
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."