Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic Vietnamese face discrimination during registration

Ethnic Vietnamese face discrimination during registration

Ethnic Vietnamese face discrimination during registration

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HARD LUCK

Vieng Yang Ngien, an ethnic Vietnamese living in a Kampong Chhnang

fishing community, displays his parentsí Cambodian ID cards dating

from the 1960s. His own UNTAC registration card was destroyed in

a Khmer Rouge attack on his village in April. Local election officials

refuse to let him register to vote.

CHNOK TROU, Kampong Chhnang - Opposition claims that illegal Vietnamese were flooding

registration polls appear less than accurate here, according to locals and commune

officials.

Commune Election Commission (CEC) chief Yung Kim Seng said less than 3% of ethnic

Vietnamese adults here were permitted to register to vote.

"A local paper abused me for allowing too many Vietnamese to register,"

said Kim Seng, brandishing a copy of Moneaksekar Khmer - a pro-Sam Rainsy newspaper.

"But no! That's not true."

Of 1,770 adults of Vietnamese origin in Chnok Trou, only 30 to 40 of them successfully

registered to vote, according to commune chief Chang Hoeun. He estimated 1,000 people

had been turned away.

Kim Seng said he had turned away fewer, perhaps 250, but confirmed that 30 to 40

was the correct number of Vietnamese voters.

Vieng Yang Ngien, 30, is one of those who tried and failed to register. He is ethnically

Vietnamese and has no ID to prove he is a Cambodian citizen. He said he used to have

an UNTAC voter ID card, which would have enabled him to register. But two months

ago, Khmer Rouge bandits attacked this predominantly Vietnamese village and killed

23 people, shouting: "Kill yuon (Vietnamese)!" and "We will keep coming

back until election day!" They burned down several houses, including Ngien's

- with all his identification in it.

"I had every document to prove [my identity] but a-Pot [the hated Pol Pot] has

burned all of these," he said. "[The registration station] did not allow

me to register because they said I don't have any documents." He said even a

letter from the commune chief attesting to the fire brought no result.

He and his brother Sok Ly, who also lost his house, have their parents' Lang Tay

citizenship cards, issued during the Sihanouk regime. They claimed such cards should

be sufficient proof that they are not illegal immigrants and can vote. "I don't

know what to do now," said Sok Ly. "Other true people also got turned away."

Yong Kim Seng said he was only following the rules in refusing to register the brothers.

"The Lang Tay is not enough, they need two more people to confirm that these

are their parents," he said. However, he added that he told them they could

file a complaint with the Provincial Election Commission and helped them fill out

the forms.

"It depends on the rule of national law," he said. "Anyone who does

not have proof of Cambodian citizenship, I cannot accept."

Yet commune chief Hoeun noted that ethnic Khmers without any documentation had been

allowed to register, as long as they brought two witnesses to swear they hadn't registered

anywhere else.

The officials said their final voter numbers were higher than expected. "We

thought we had 1,256 voters in the commune, but we registered 1,801 people,"

said Kim Seng. The 1,256 figure was the NEC's preliminary number of adults - Khmer,

Cham and Vietnamese - expected to be eligible in the multi-ethnic area.

Kim Seng said the surprising 143% yield was not due to fraudulent registration but

to the itinerant lifestyle of people in the area, which is mostly comprised of floating

houses and traveling fisher-families.

Yet many opposition politicians claim the gravest problem is that of non-Cambodian

citizens being allowed to register illegally.

The governing Cambodian People's Party was installed in power by the Vietnamese and

is seen as likely to benefit from a high ethnic Vietnamese turnout.

"I am not racist, but if you are Vietnamese you have less difficulties to register

yourself without any identity card and so on," Funcinpec president Prince Norodom

Ranariddh told the Post.

Funcinpec claims that in Phnom Penh alone, 7,759 suspect Vietnamese persons were

registered between May 18 and June 13.

Party loyalist Ahmad Yahya explained that Funcinpec had two people at almost every

polling station in the capital and watched for people who were allowed to register

even though they spoke almost no Khmer.

"They are allowing too many Vietnamese to vote. It goes against Cambodians'

will," he said.

The Sam Rainsy Party has announced plans to organize a demonstration for people who

have had trouble registering, but it is unclear whether ethnic Vietnamese are invited.

For their part, Chnok Trou officials maintain that they stuck strictly to the letter

of the law. "I do not follow any political party, just the rules of the NEC,"

CEC chief Kim Seng said. "In my area, I registered people properly."

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