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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnam president urges review of law

Vietnam president urges review of law

T HE passing of the controversial immigration law by the National Assembly has sparked a personal letter from the Vietnamese President to the King urging Cambodian parliamentary members to review its adoption.

"President Le Duch Anh wrote me a letter to request our parliamentary members review the adopted immigration law," His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk said in a letter to National Assembly Chairman Chea Sim obtained by the Post .

The Vietnamese presidents' letter, written on Aug 29 three days after the passage of the law, expressed fear that some articles of the law would affect ethnic Vietnamese legitimately living in Cambodia.

Earlier UN spokesmen have suggested the law could be used to deport hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia, and that human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing could occur.

The National Assembly appears likely to ignore the Vietnamese presidents' request. Parliamentary member Ahmad Yahya said: "The law has already been adopted by the parliament ... we can not revise [it]."

Yahya is the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of Public works, Transportation, Tele-communications and Post, and also the chairman of the Committee of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

He said when the Ministry of Interior implemented the law it would affect the majority of ethnic Vietnamese living illegally in Cambodia.

Yahya said the parliament would not amend any articles of the law. But Chea Sim has written a letter to acting assembly chairman Loy Sim Chheang to convene members of the permanent committee of the parliament to discuss the Vietnamese president's request.

The immigration law, which has been rushed to the National Assembly in great urgency, was passed by a vote of 97 to 1 after five days of debate which saw only minor amendments made to the draft.

After the passage of the law on Aug 26 Finance Minister Sam Rainsy in an interview with the Post said: "I am very happy because this law is necessary to control the flow of illegal immigrants into our country."

He added that the passing of the law was a great success which would help bring law and order to the country.

"Our people have been waiting for this law for a long time to be finally adopted. [The law] has not been aimed at a majority of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia but was passed to protect our national interests and our national identity.. ."

He said that it is still unclear how many ethnic Vietnamese remain in Cambodia. Earlier Co- ministers of the Interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry told the Assembly that 17,000 families consisting of 100,000 ethnic Vietnamese resided in the country.

Rainsy said: "I do not deny this figure... but I believe the number will be higher if we go to ask our people in the provinces."

He explained that in the 1960s there were 450,000 ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia and thousands of them were killed in bloody programs under the Lon Nol government and Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Rainsy said after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 many ethnic Vietnamese flowed easily and illegally into the country and purchased Cambodian ID cards for $30 from the former SOC regime.

Rainsy quoted Sar Kheng as saying the ID cards the SOC regime provided to the Vietnamese were not national identity cards. "It's just a card to identify a person as living in Cambodia ... not to identify a person as having Cambodian nationality," Rainsy said.

He added: "Those people [who bought the ID cards] will face control and will [have to] register again.... I think this law could solve the problem of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia."

Rainsy later said the Vietnamese people in the past flowed easily into the country and when the law came into affect it would make it more difficult for such illegal entry to occur.

He said: "I believe the Royal Government and our Khmer people will use the law to stem the influx of Vietnamese."

Co-Minister of the Interior You Hockry said the law was not only aimed at the ethnic Vietnamese but any foreigners who enter or stay in the country illegally.

He said: "When we implement the law, we don't say this is a Vietnamese, that is a Chinese, French or Thai... this law will affect any foreigners [who] get into the country illegally."

He indicated that 60,000 ethnic Chinese live in Cambodia and the law was also aimed at controlling them. "We will register any foreigners," he said.

Human rights activists have warned that the law was specifically drafted by the Royal Government to deport thousands of ethnic Vietnamese who have lived for a long time in Cambodia.

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