Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Approval granted for expansion of Vietnamese support group

Approval granted for expansion of Vietnamese support group

Approval granted for expansion of Vietnamese support group

The Vietnamese Association in Cambodia (VAC) has received permission to expand into

18 provinces and municipalities to teach ethnic Vietnamese about Cambodian culture

and law. It already has one office in Phnom Penh.

Sum Chi, president of VAC, said the association wants to reduce the violence that

has long marred relations between ethnic Vietnamese and Cambodians. Gruesome massacres

of ethnic Vietnamese were carried out by the Khmer Rouge and, in recent years, mob

killings have claimed the lives of several ethnic Vietnamese, including four people

beaten to death in 1998.

Politics has also entered into the equation. In the latest national election, a mob

of Sam Rainsy supporters prevented Vietnamese voters from casting ballots in Kandal

province and confiscated their identification cards.

"I think that when ethnic Vietnamese understand about Cambodian culture and

the law that will help reduce the violence which has always existed between Cambodians

and Vietnamese," Chi said. "Our association does not serve a political

interest. We are neutral, the same as any other association working in the country."

Chi said his association had been registered with local authorities for several years.

It was cleared by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) for national expansion earlier this

year. Chi also claims that VAC serves a humanitarian function by helping both Vietnamese

and Khmer suffering from natural disasters.

And Chi has seen encouraging signs for ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

"We see now that Vietnamese can participate in traditional Khmer festivals such

as Khmer New Year, Water Festival and Pchum Ben," he said.

The decision to give VAC approval to open offices in the provinces was granted by

co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry on April 24.

VAC plans to set up offices in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang,

Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu, Siem Reap, Kratie, Svay Rieng, Prey Veng,

Kandal, Kampot, Koh Kong, Takeo, Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Sihanoukville.

However, Chi said that VAC lacked the budget to extend its offices to these areas

right away. Most Vietnamese still live in areas outside the organization's reach.

Although a national census was conducted in 1998, official statistics about the number

of Vietnamese in Cambodia were not released. Political parties such as the Sam Rainsy

Party claim as many as 1 million ethnic Vietnamese live in Cambodia, but the government

insists there are only about 100,000.

Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party have long accused ethnic Vietnamese of supporting

the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Politicians have linked them with the

1979 Vietnamese-installed government in Cambodia.

Nouhen Prum Virak, secretary general of the Student Movement for Democracy (SMD)

said he estimates at least two million illegal Vietnamese immigrants live in Cambodia,

although no evidence exists to substantiate that claim.

Virak said that he was concerned that illegal Vietnamese immigrants were being used

to claim more territory from Cambodia. He said Vietnamese political influence still

exists under Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"I think that the majority of Vietnamese live illegally in Cambodia," said

Virak. "If Vietnamese enter Cambodian as illegals they have no rights to form

the association. If members of the association are illegal immigrants, it means VAC

violates the law."

But Nhek Sarin, executive director for local NGO Star Kampuchea, said associations

and NGOs could operate legally simply by registering with the MoI.

He said a new draft law on certifying local associations and NGOs had not yet been

approved since it was a low priority of the government.

He said Article 3 of the draft law states that locally based associations should

be created by a group of "neutral persons" who are Cambodian citizens.

He said that if foreigners living in Cambodia wanted to form an association, they

must include Cambodian citizens.

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