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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Incidents spotlight fears over Immigration Law

Incidents spotlight fears over Immigration Law

F OLLOWING many exchanges of complaints and criticisms, questions are now being posed as to how the immigration law will be implemented. The Vietnamese residents represent the main thrust for argument, with observers still believing that the law will be used to turn this hated ethnic group out of the country.

Requesting anonymity for himself and for the people and locations mentioned in the incidents, one foreign observer close to the law showed the Post reports of incidents of abuse documented in September experienced by Vietnamese residents around the capital. Those incidents involved confiscation of identification cards and extortion, and were committed by police.

In a village just outside Phnom Penh on Route 1, said the report, family books were seized under orders from the district level, with no reason given, and simply not returned as the owners failed to meet the demand for $100.

"Some of them (local authority officials) are not getting proper guidance from the upper level. This is the danger of the ambiguity of the immigration law," he said.

The immigration law was put into effect late last month and is awaiting sub-decrees which will help in its implementation. Minister of Interior You Hockry told the Post they would be ready in two months. However, observers have already expressed suspicion over the effect when the law is applied.

They point to the ministry's structure, with its control over administration at the provincial and village levels, and they believe there is still huge potential for abuse and extortion that can finally lead to subtle methods of deporting ethnic Vietnamese.

"They [the government] must have a nationality law in order to determine and enforce the immigration law. Provisions in the immigration law are vague as to who has the right to take people's ID cards," said a foreign observer close to the topic.

The Cambodian lawmakers and government officials have reacted to these concerns with complaints that human rights groups are putting too much emphasis on the Vietnamese minority.

"When human rights groups shouted, I asked them what are you shouting for?" Kem Sokha, chairman of the National Assembly's commissions on human rights and reception of complaints asked while addressing a TVK-organized forum on Oct. 1.

"They never talk about anything else, always fearing that we will mistreat the Vietnamese," Sokha said, adding: "But that's their problem, not ours. Our problem is to protect the rights of Khmers, the right of all nationals in Cambodia and the right of the government to defend its territory."

In his letter dated Sept. 19, First Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh told UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali that the law was suitable to the present situation in the country and would be applied uniformly to all foreigners without discrimination.

"Any measure regarding the implementation of the (immigration) law and the decrees related to it will be subjected to appropriate dialogues with countries concerned, notably with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," said Ranariddh.

Ranariddh was responding in the letter to the concerns of the UN chief, who had been briefed by King Norodom Sihanouk while in Beijing in mid-September, about the King's efforts to get the Royal Government to modify the law.

The letter was apparently sent to Boutros Ghali three days prior to King Sihanouk giving the go-ahead to Chea Sim, acting head of state and speaker of the parliament, to sign the bill into effect on Sept 22.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another foreign expert close to the immigration law called these statements embarrassing for the government. He said the government, due to pressure from both inside and outside the country, seems to be softening its position on the immigration issue.

He pointed to the government pulling back from its two previous requests to the UNHCR to set up reception centers for ethnic Vietnamese. A senior government official, when asked about it, admitted it was not economically feasible for the government to administer such camps..

The foreign source added that the foreign ministries of Cambodia and Vietnam, on the basis of a bilateral working group, would meet to discuss the issue of Vietnamese nationals in mid October. Hockry, when asked about the meeting, confirmed it would take place "in the near future."

"It was quite embarrassing for the government to make these statements, following intervention by the Vietnamese government and Boutros Boutros Ghali," said the expert.

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