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
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
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
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
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.
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