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Khmer Krom returnee

The Editor,

I would like to thank you so much indeed for the article

"Khmer Krom: Time to Talk of the 'hidden problem' of ethnic minorities (May

5-18).

It was most gratefully received by those of us without the ability

to talk or write about what we are, what we do and the way we were and are

treated by the Vietnamese authorities in our ex-motherland. Personally, I think

it is time for all human rights workers to visit Kampuchea Krom and make

investigations about it.

I am one of the Khmer Krom. I was born and grew

up there in a small Khmer village called Phno Kom Bot (Short Village Land), Kor

Ky commune, in Preas Tra Peang (Buddha Pond) province, which the Vietnamese now

call Tra Vinh province.

There were many other surrounding Khmer villages.

A lot of villages with Khmer names now bear Vietnamese names. Noticeably,

generally where there is a Khmer village, there is a wat (pagoda), which is

really the same as any wat in the countryside of Cambodia, with at least 10 to

30 monks in each. In Tra Vinh province alone, there are more than 150

wats.

The patriotic monk teachers taught us that there are between four

million to six million Khmer Krom. When I was a young boy, I sometimes heard the

old Khmer villagers say the words "Srok Khmer" (Cambodia) but I didn't know

where that was. I just thought there was nowhere other than the place we were

given birth and were we were living innocently.

I studied Vietnamese at a

school [a government school, as were many others built on pagoda land]. Because

of that I could read, write and speak Vietnamese as well as my mother tongue.

Meanwhile, the elderly, strongly religious ones, could understand only a few

simple Vietnamese words, and rarely went shopping at the provincial market where

a lot of Vietnamese and some Chinese made money by doing business with Khmer

farmers.

I remember well the awful time, the late years of [South Vietnam

president Nguyen Van] Thieu's US-backed government, when the Vietnamese

authorities sent their soldiers to Khmer villages and Khmer wats to catch monks

and disrobe them, forcing them to join government troops fighting the Viet

Cong.

Moreover, Khmer men who worked as special soldiers for the US Army

at Long Hai airport base were sent to help Lon Nol's US-backed government in

Cambodia, to fight against the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge. Most of them were

shot dead soon after the 17 April [Khmer Rouge] victory.

Again in

Vietnam, on November 16, 1976, after Thieu's government had collapsed, the new

government's soldiers broke into Khmer wats, tied up and quietly took away

almost all Khmer men in the villages along with some monks. Some of them were

never given any chance to return home.

Still the last event happened in

1985-1986. All of the intellectual monks along with some of their benefactors

were caught and imprisoned. Khmer books were seized and burnt. There were no

more Khmer schools, or Khmer teachers at wats, and there was the death of the

head monk of Kim Tok Choeung province, Hanh Sovann. This was all typical of

those dark days.

We, the hopeless, the loneliest, the poorest, the

powerless and the most ill-fated of people wonder why, when we are in our land,

the Vietnamese call us "tho" (primitive men) or ethnic Khmer. And Cambodians

call us "youn", or Vietnamese, when we fled from our birthplaces to live in

Cambodia, which we considered our ancestral land.

What about the future?

Will there be any chance for Khmer Krom to live peacefully with their neighbors?

And what will there be for our descendants?

- Sok Boramey, Phnom Penh

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