In a sharply worded statement, the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh condemned a protest that took place in front of its building yesterday morning, saying demonstrators interfered with Vietnam’s sovereignty and internal affairs.
Several demonstrators and at least one security guard were injured during clashes when about 200 members and supporters of several Khmer Krom organisations gathered outside the embassy.
Participants demanded a formal apology from embassy spokesman Trung Van Thong for commenting last month that the Kampuchea Krom territory belonged to Vietnam long before France officially granted it the land in 1949.
“Despite being restrained by relevant authorities of the Royal Government of Cambodia, the demonstration still took place and seriously impeded the operation of the Embassy,” the statement released yesterday afternoon reads.
“The Embassy considers this move an act of intervention into the sovereignty and internal affairs of Viet Nam.”
Protesters led by the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students (FCIS) arrived at the embassy at about 7am and were greeted by about 200 security guards and military police. Authorities kept them from demonstrating in front of the building.
Security guards and military police forcefully used shields and batons to disperse the protesters, who were marching in two groups towards the embassy from opposite sides.
A second clash occurred at about 9am when protesters tried again to advance on the building. Banging their batons against their shields to warn demonstrators before they attacked, authorities again used force, but were met by volleys of rocks thrown by members of the crowd, injuring at least one embassy security guard.
The iron gates in front of the embassy were closed to keep the group outside. By noon, the demonstrators had dispersed.
Several participants decried the authorities’ violent response and their inability to hold their planned protest in response to Van Thong’s comments on Radio Free Asia last month that “France did not cut territory of Khmer Kampuchea Krom and give it to Vietnam, but Kampuchea Krom had been a Vietnamese territory for a very long time”.
“We just gathered in the area outside the embassy; that is Khmer land,” FCIS director Mao Pises said. “But the authorities cracked down and beat us.”
Despite Pises’ reasoning that the group was not doing anything wrong as it was not encroaching on Vietnamese territory, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipality had forbidden the demonstration during a meeting and in an official letter.
The Vietnamese Embassy’s statement complained that the demonstration was “contrary to the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which stipulate ‘Cambodia does not allow any force or any individual to use its territory to counter any other country’.”
Neither Van Throng nor any other spokesperson for Vietnam’s embassy could be reached yesterday.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan refused to comment on the embassy’s statement, telling a Post reporter that he did not want to create any conflict.
“The government as well as the local authority . . . don’t want to see anything happening, anything provocative,” said Siphan, who emphasised close relations between Cambodia and Vietnam. “Everyone should respect the law.”
No arrests were made at the demonstration, and the Phnom Penh municipality has no intention of opening any investigation into the protest, Dimanche said.
“I don’t have anything to investigate about this matter,” he said. “[Placing security guards and military police at embassies] is what City Hall does in order to protect foreign embassies in Cambodia.”