The massacre of 33 Vietnamese settlers in Siem Reap highlighted the ambivalent feelings
of many Cambodians and most of the major parties on the question of Vietnamese settlers
While the world expressed outrage at the Mar. 10 massacre, the Cambodian factions,
with the exception of the State of Cambodia were initially mute on the issue.
On Mar. 11 when contacted by the Post, FUNCINPEC did not wish to comment on the massacre.
"This is a very sensitive issue. We will have to remain silent on this. We will
not condemn or approve it," a party official said.
The Khmer People's National Liberation Front were the first to go public when they
issued a statement to the press on Mar. 12. "As a party which fully respects
human rights and strictly follows the Buddhist principles, we, the KPNLF, strongly
condemn any acts of violence against humanity." They went on to issue an appeal
which was echoed by subsequent statements. "The KPNLF also urges Vietnam to
immediately call upon her citizens currently living illegally in Cambodia to return
to their homeland." Since the signing of the peace accords, the KPNLF has only
been surpassed by the Khmer Rouge in the frequency and intensity of its anti-Vietnamese
rhetoric. Vietnamese diplomats accused the KPNLF of inciting further massacres.
FUNCINPEC finally came out with a response on Mar. 17. Although the State of Cambodia
(SOC) had immediately accused the Khmer Rouge and UNTAC officials were, at this stage,
also blaming the radical faction for the attack, FUNCINPEC vigorously condemned the
"unidentified assailants" who targeted the innocent civilians.
Speaking from Beijing, Prince Sihanouk expressed his horror at the latest example
of what UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi described as the "hideous practice of ethnic
cleansing." The prince said it appeared that UNTAC and SOC were incapable of
defending ethnic Vietnamese from such attacks and he noted the rising tide of racism
in Cambodia. "Anti-Vietnamese hatred is such that the only reasonable alternative,
left to them, is to leave Cambodia straight away and go and live in Vietnam."
The racial issue is seen as a good testing ground for Cambodia's nascent human rights
organizations. UNTAC officials stated some of them had to be prodded to respond.
OUTREACH, VIGILANCE, ADHOC and LICADHO issued a joint statement affirming that "respect
for the life and dignity of all people regardless of ethnic origin is the fundamental
principle upon which all human rights are based."
Representatives of the first three organizations expressed their concern about "illegal"
Vietnamese immigrants. An OUTREACH official stated that people have the right to
live in their own country. "This right should be protected from interference,
Vietnamese immigration is wrong," he said. A representative of VIGILANCE said
the killings had happened because of the "discrimination which has arisen from
the flood of immigrants." Both men advocated that Vietnamese without any passports
or visas be rounded up and put into camps similar to the Cambodians on the Thai border.
"International law says that these people should live in camps. Cambodian
political immigrants also had to stay in refugee camps in Thailand. This is the law,"
the OUTREACH official stated.
Nobody contests that there has been a big influx of Vietnamese in recent times seeking
a stake in the U.N. inspired "El Dorado." But several observers pointed
to the fact that many ethnic Vietnamese have lived in Cambodia for years or were
Most of these fled the country to escape Lon Nol's pogroms and the Khmer Rouge's
murderous racial chauvinism and no longer have "papers." Historians confirmed
that Lon Nol's army confiscated the I.D. cards of large numbers of Vietnamese living
here before expelling them from the country. Others lost their identity papers during
the two decades of turmoil.
Akashi highlighted the complexity of the immigrant issue in his statement to the
Supreme National Council on the massacre. "Many of the victims of this cowardly
and senseless display of ethnic violence were women and children. Their menfolk were
simple fishermen on the Tonle Sap. Most, if not all, had been born in Cambodia and
had resided here for most of their lives. Some were third generation Cambodians,"
A Vietnamese diplomat defended the settlers right to live freely in Cambodia."In
every country there are people who do the work the local people don't want to do.
They comply with the law so the government must protect them. Foreign residents are
not refugees. The idea of camps runs contrary to the joint communique." This
was signed in January 1992 by Prince Sihanouk and Vietnamese Foreign Minister, Nguyen
Manh Cam and stated that the question of Vietnamese immigrants and other pertinent
issues would be settled through peaceful negotiations between the Vietnamese and
the newly elected Cambodian government.
The Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh accused UNTAC of contributing to the atmosphere
of racial intolerance and said the U.N. shared responsibility for the massacre. The
brutal attack happened "only ten days after UNTAC announced and demanded the
expulsion of the so called 'three foreign forces'," the embassy stated.
The Vietnamese officials dismissed the contention that racial hatred was endemic
in Cambodia and went on to express views which some Western observers felt were more
like "wishful thinking."
"Fanning national hatred to get votes is very dangerous for political parties
because it ignores and looks down on the wisdom of the people of Cambodia. They cannot
deceive the people because they will never forget the "killing fields"
and they will vote in the elections against racism," a diplomatic official said.
The diplomatic source claimed rival factions were using racism to make trouble, create
chaos and overthrow the State of Cambodia. "Attacking, massacring and denouncing
the Vietnamese is all aimed at decreasing the credibility and prestige of the State
of Cambodia," SOC spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
Opposition parties were hoping to fan hatred to the point where there would be mass
anti-Vietnamese demonstrations, similar to the bloody pogroms of 1970, he said.
"If there was a clash between the authorities and the demonstrators we will
be accused of being pro-Vietnamese and of fighting our own compatriots in order to
protect the Vietnamese," Kanharith stated. In the event of such demonstrations,
SOC will quickly inform UNTAC and withdraw our forces, UNTAC has to provide security
for the Vietnamese, the spokesman said.
Head of Media Monitoring at UNTAC Information and Education, Sam Borin said the 17
Khmer language newspapers had all been pretty consistent in their coverage of the
attack. The faction's papers went with their party's line and the five supposedly
independent journals all aired similar views, Borin said. Echoing Prince Sihanouk's
remarks, they all condemned the massacre and then added that, since the protection
of the Vietnamese cannot be guaranteed and in the interests of their own safety,
they should go home, he said.
A unique and lone voice speaking against the massacre came from Douc Rasy. Former
Dean of the Law School and Member of the National Assembly, Rasy now heads the Ligue
Cambodienne des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, LCDHC. Rasy questioned the factions'
allegation that UNTAC was responsible for ensuring the security of the Vietnamese.
He disputed Sihanouk's widely accepted view that the Vietnamese should go home.
"Fleeing is not a solution. A crime is committed in Cambodia, her judicial order
is infringed. Suppose in South Vietnam the Khmer Krom are victims of a pogrom, shall
we Cambodians say to them, 'flee to Cambodia' or shall we put the Vietnamese government
before its responsibility," he said.
Rasy added that to defend Cambodia and her system, the people must oppose the massacres
and not force people to run away. If they don't do that, Rasy warned "we recognize
that crime does pay and we open a new killing field."