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People talk

People talk

Dear Sir,

R egarding the present outcry over Cambodia's nationality policies, particularly Mr. John C. Brown's article " Cambodia only for the Khmer?" in The Phnom Penh Post June 3-16, 1994, let the readers be informed that in the Khmer language, the world for "people/citizens of Cambodia" is "Jeat Khmer" which literally translates into "Khmer National." There is no Khmer equivalent of "Cambodia", which is an ethnically neutral word meaning "the people of Cambodia."

Colloquially and historically, "Khmer National" refers to the people of Cambodia or to the equivalent of "Cambodians." Not much scrutiny or work in etymology is required to see that the word "Khmer National" means people of Khmer ethnic group/blood. To lawyers and Westerners particularly sensitive and cautious about ethnic issues and terminologies, such ethnically un-neutral word is racist.

I disagree. Cambodia has used only "Jeat Khmer" in referring to the people of Cambodia. "Khmer National" has been used in constitutions and law. Race history in Cambodia has not been extraordinarily racist because of the use of "Khmer National" in its constitution or law.

Cambodia's treatment and integration of the Chinese community living in Cambodia has not been as successful at that of Thailand, however, it certainly has not been as bad as that of Indonesia.

Cambodia's treatment of the Cham, Kuoy, and other hill tribe groups does not deserve an "A" grade, but then, which country deserves an "A" for its policies and practice toward its indigenous population? America's treatment of the Native Americans? Australia's policies on the aborigines? China's or Vietnam's treatments of their hill tribe ethnic groups? Cambodia's treatment of the Vietnamese living in Cambodia is a complicated, unique historically-rooted issue and is an internal affair of the people of Cambodia. "Cambodia" is a foreign word. The people of Cambodia call the country "Kampuchea." Please, let us call ourselves by our original name "Jeat Khmer", and do not insist that we call ourselves by another name which Westerners feel is ethnically neutral and proper.

- Navi Te, YMCA, Bangkok


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