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Buddhist monks hold a banner and flags as they march through the streets of Phnom Penh
Buddhist monks hold a banner and flags as they march through the streets of Phnom Penh yesterday morning during a protest demanding an apology to the Khmer Krom people. Vireak Mai

Krom march on missions

Hundreds of monks, youths and other Kampuchea Krom activists beat a path around Phnom Penh yesterday, delivering to six foreign embassies – before finally being rebuffed by the Vietnamese – a petition calling for the recognition of the “true history” of Kampuchea Krom.

Yesterday’s demonstration was born out of the outcry over comments made by a Vietnamese Embassy official last month that Kampuchea Krom – a portion of southern Vietnam once held by the Angkorian empire – had not been granted to Vietnam by French colonial administrators in the 1940s but had been part of Vietnam “for a very long time”.

The petition delivered to the French, British, US, European, Russian and Chinese embassies yesterday, called on Vietnam to acknowledge that the territory had indeed once belonged to Cambodia.

“There is no historian denying that Kampuchea Krom is Cambodia’s territory,” the petition reads. “Every statement that fakes history and intends to induce violence or to show racism, we cannot accept that.”

According to Thach Setha, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, the Vietnamese diplomat’s statement about Kampuchea Krom “intends to look down on Cambodian people as a stupid race”.

“We all cannot accept this disdain and we demand a public apology in written form,” he added.

The Vietnamese Embassy declined to accept the petition. Demonstration organisers initially promised to camp in front of the embassy until the petition was received but ultimately decided to leave, with plans to restart the demonstration at 8am today.

Hundreds of Buddhist monks, students and members of the public clog a road as they listen to a speech during a Khmer Krom protest
Hundreds of Buddhist monks, students and members of the public clog a road as they listen to a speech during a Khmer Krom protest yesterday in Phnom Penh. Eli Meixler

The atmosphere at yesterday’s protest was initially tense, coming as it did on the back of recent demonstrations at which authorities dispatched baton-wielding informal security personnel against participants.

Protester Krouch Chanry vowed to fight back if authorities resorted to violence.

“I am a human being, so I also feel pain,” he said. “I cannot allow them to beat me like an animal.”

However, despite the circuitous protest route along some of the capital’s busiest streets, confrontations with authorities were practically nonexistent. Even after demonstrators arriving at the Vietnamese Embassy surged through a first line of barriers, police manning a second line remained calm.

Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trung Van Thong, who made the offending comments, could not be reached yesterday, but said earlier this month that he was “not interested” in the calls for an apology.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE

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