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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnam migrants discussed

Vietnam migrants discussed

C AMBODIA and Vietnam may be closer - a little, at least - to resolving their

differences over Vietnamese in Cambodia following inter-ministerial

discussions.

A delegation of 11 Vietnamese met with their counterparts

from the Cambodian ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, social action

and culture for four days of talks in Phnom Penh late last month.

Thlang

Sarun, Deputy Director of the Cambodian Interior Ministry's Immigration

Department, said three main points had been agreed upon.

They were that

security would be ensured as much as possible for Vietnamese immigrants in

Cambodia; that national and international laws would be respected in their

regard; and that they would not be forced into detention or refugee camps in

Cambodia.

On the issue of several thousand Vietnamese boatpeople stranded

on Cambodia's southern border at Chrey Thom, Cambodian officials had pledged

they would soon examine their cases individually.

Some 2800 Vietnamese

are living in a makeshift floating refugee village on the Basaac River at Chrey

Thom, just inside the Vietnamese border.

Human rights groups say most of

them had lived in Cambodia for years, and fled to the border during Khmer Rouge

attacks on Vietnamese around the time of the 1993 elections. The government,

concerned at increasing Vietnamese immigration, will not let them return to

Cambodia.

Sarun - in the first such government acknowledgment - said it

appeared that 70 per cent of the boatpeople might be able to come back to

Cambodia.

The government would investigate each situation on a case by

case basis, checking to see whether they had documents or witnesses to prove

they had lived in Cambodia for years.

One of the Vietnamese delegation,

however, complained to the Post that it was unfair for the people to be asked

for documents. "You understand that there has been many years of war [in

Cambodia] - no-one will have their documents."

While some progress was

made in the discussions, there was little more agreement. Sarun said the

Vietnamese delegation had asked for a pledge that large numbers of Vietnamese

not be forcibly sent back to Vietnam - as feared under Cambodia's immigration

law.

The Cambodian government responded by saying that it had the right

to make decisions on the basis of Cambodian law, without the interference of

Vietnam.

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