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VN blocks entry of Euro MPs

Khmer Krom advocates barred from flight to Ho Chi Minh City

EUROPEAN government officials visiting the region to advocate for greater cultural and religious freedoms for Khmer Krom were stopped from boarding a flight Tuesday to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh's International Airport.

Marco Perduca, an Italian parliamentarian, and Marco Pannella, a parliamentarian with the European Union, were both on an unofficial visit as members of a global human rights and democracy advocacy group, the Non-Violent Radical Party, which has consultative status with the United Nations.

The last-minute rebuff was especially surprising, they said, because the foreign minister and parliamentarians from Vietnam had agreed to meet them in Hanoi today.

"I think there are some disagreements in the government," Pannella, who is the advocacy group's president, said, suggesting that some

Vietnamese officials may have been behind the denial.  

"There are parts of the government that fear demonstrations" from ethnic Khmers in Vietnam would be provoked by their visit, he said.

He said the Italian government was trying to contact Vietnamese officials to resolve the problem.

As they were about to board their flight, airport authorities presented them with a vaguely composed fax from a Vietnamese state tour agency claiming they had not followed a rule requiring that "when you are issued (an) entry visa for traveling, you must supply your tour program and details schedule".

They noted that the travel agency that sent the fax, Vungtau Intourco Hanoi, had not previously been involved with their travel plans, and their visas were valid until the middle of next month.

They had planned to meet Tuesday with Khmer Krom leaders in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss rights violations  against their community including the arrest of activists.

Officials with the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh could not be contacted on Tuesday. 

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