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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic Vietnamese Return on Tide of Peace

Ethnic Vietnamese Return on Tide of Peace

On the southeastern outskirts of Phnom Penh, just across the Monivong bridge, scores

of straw-roofed, wooden houses line the river bank, forming a small village of ethnic

Vietnamese.

In front of a shabby looking cottage-like house, 73-year-old Le The Ba was sitting

and watching to the left and right, waiting to see if there were any customers coming

to have their bicycles repaired. From his perch he has been able to watch the small

flotillas of ethnic Vietnamese fishing families, who fled a Khmer Rouge-inspired

ethnic cleansing campaign earlier this uear, return up the Tonle Bassac river.

According to Le The Ba, there are more than 30 groups of Vietnamese people in the

village, each consisting of some 20 families.

"Most of the Vietnamese families have lived here for more than 10 years. Many

of them were born in Cambodia," the old man said.

When asked why the Vietnamese had decided to return to Cambodia, 40-year-old Choeung

Thy Lan, Le The Ba's niece said, "We would rather die in Cambodia than die from

starvation in Vietnam, so we have decided to come back here.''

She said it was the same reason the fisher families, including some of her own relatives

were heading back to the great lake.

"We were born in Cambodia, and so were our ancestors. We don't want to leave

here", said Lan looking at her uncle andthen at Chan Thy, who was coming to

join the group.

Chan Thy is a 34-year-old woman who has a Khmer father and Vietnamese mother. She

married Mom Naroeun, an former Phnom Penh army soldier in 1986.

"We were extremely happy when we found out there was an agreement among the

Cambodian leaders. We don't want to separate from our families," Chan Thy said.

Chan Thy and many of her Vietnamese neighbors shared their birth place in Kompong

Chhnang, but went to Vietnam in the early '70s when the Lon Nol took power and oversaw

a bloody campaign of pogroms.

Chan Thy said that the Vietnamese people in her village started fleeing for Vietnam

at the end of April and more and more followed as the elections approached. She said

the final group, including herself and her four young daughters, left Cambodia on

15May.

"On 14 May, I was crying all night because I was going to be separated from

my husband the next morning,"she said.

She said her husband did not want to go to Vietnam because he could only speak Khmer,

as do her daughters.

"My mother and I were listening to the Cambodian radio all the time in Vietnam.

When they were broadcasting the election results and the establishment of the new

government we were so happy," she said.

Chan Thy speaks fluent Khmer, and the other Vietnamese also speak Khmer credibly

enough. They were all very eager to tell us about their background in order to affirm

that they had lived in Cambodia for a long time and that they don't want to leave

this country.

"Now that all the Khmer leaders seem to be in harmony with each other, we are

not so afraid of living in Cambodia," Le The Ba said.

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