Local human rights groups said living conditions of the Vietnamese boat people stranded
at the southern border had reached a critical stage and some of them had resorted
to killing rodents for food.
"We saw some of the Vietnamese at the border killing mice for food. They live
in the such a poor condition. The emergency situation is that they need food, medical
care and roofs because sometimes it rains," said Kek Galabru, president of LICADO.
The number of the boat people held up at the CV3-B border checkpoint could exceed
30,000, she said.
The groups appealed for urgent aid and stressed that their actions were humanitarian
and that they had no comment to make on the sensitive political question of the ethnic
Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia.
"We urge the two governments to find a solution to the problem. We won't allow
one of them to ignore it, otherwise it will be a violation of human rights,"
said Thun Saren, a representative of the Khmer Krom Association.
The issue of what to do with the fisherman was discussed during the recent state
visit by co-premiers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen to Vietnam but the leaders
of the two countries failed to come to an agreement on the problem. The issue was
left out of the joint communiqué signed at the end of the visit but the two
sides agreed to set up a technical team of experts to look into the cases. Many ethnic
Vietnamese families have lived in Cambodia for generations and carry Cambodian identity
The human rights activists focused attention on two contentious problems-guarantees
of security for the return of Vietnamese boat people to their habitual residence
and their legal status which must be clearly defined in Cambodia's new constitution.
"There's still a problem how can we stop the Khmer Rouge from killing them when
they kill us also," Kek said.
A joint statement produced by the groups proposed that the Cambodian government give
an opportunity to those Vietnamese families and their descendants who settled in
Cambodia before 1975 to acquire Cambodian citizenship, provided that they have adequate
proof of residency before 1975. In addition to this, Vietnamese migrants to Cambodia
after 1979 should be classified into a category which strictly limits their right
to obtain a residency permit. Regarding this category, the statement puts forward
recommendations calling on Vietnamese authorities to accept them back as citizens
and provide them with appropriate passports or identity papers.
"We believe that Vietnamese who entered Cambodia after 1979 can not claim residency
rights because they entered and settled in Cambodia at a time when Cambodians were
not in control of their country. Moreover, a significant number of the Vietnamese
who entered Cambodia after 1979 were new economic migrants whose entry into the country
might have been better controlled if a different government was in place," the
"Khmer Krom knows about Vietnam better than the people here [in Cambodia],"
Thun Saren said, adding, "As long as Vietnam is independent and peaceful why
should we use the word refugee? I am surprised. We'd better talk about Vietnamese
in Cambodia, but not Vietnamese refugees."
"Cambodia was under the control of Vietnam for a long time, that's why Vietnamese
came in such large numbers," he added.
The Vietnam invasion of Cambodia in 1978 resulted in the installation of the former
pro-Hanoi government which relaxed all border crossing procedures for Vietnamese
citizens. Thousands of them were compelled to leave Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge
launched and ethnic cleansing campaign during which more the 100 Vietnamese were