On the southeastern outskirts of Phnom Penh, just across the Monivong bridge, scores
of straw-roofed, wooden houses line the river bank, forming a small village of ethnic
In front of a shabby looking cottage-like house, 73-year-old Le The Ba was sitting
and watching to the left and right, waiting to see if there were any customers coming
to have their bicycles repaired. From his perch he has been able to watch the small
flotillas of ethnic Vietnamese fishing families, who fled a Khmer Rouge-inspired
ethnic cleansing campaign earlier this uear, return up the Tonle Bassac river.
According to Le The Ba, there are more than 30 groups of Vietnamese people in the
village, each consisting of some 20 families.
"Most of the Vietnamese families have lived here for more than 10 years. Many
of them were born in Cambodia," the old man said.
When asked why the Vietnamese had decided to return to Cambodia, 40-year-old Choeung
Thy Lan, Le The Ba's niece said, "We would rather die in Cambodia than die from
starvation in Vietnam, so we have decided to come back here.''
She said it was the same reason the fisher families, including some of her own relatives
were heading back to the great lake.
"We were born in Cambodia, and so were our ancestors. We don't want to leave
here", said Lan looking at her uncle andthen at Chan Thy, who was coming to
join the group.
Chan Thy is a 34-year-old woman who has a Khmer father and Vietnamese mother. She
married Mom Naroeun, an former Phnom Penh army soldier in 1986.
"We were extremely happy when we found out there was an agreement among the
Cambodian leaders. We don't want to separate from our families," Chan Thy said.
Chan Thy and many of her Vietnamese neighbors shared their birth place in Kompong
Chhnang, but went to Vietnam in the early '70s when the Lon Nol took power and oversaw
a bloody campaign of pogroms.
Chan Thy said that the Vietnamese people in her village started fleeing for Vietnam
at the end of April and more and more followed as the elections approached. She said
the final group, including herself and her four young daughters, left Cambodia on
"On 14 May, I was crying all night because I was going to be separated from
my husband the next morning,"she said.
She said her husband did not want to go to Vietnam because he could only speak Khmer,
as do her daughters.
"My mother and I were listening to the Cambodian radio all the time in Vietnam.
When they were broadcasting the election results and the establishment of the new
government we were so happy," she said.
Chan Thy speaks fluent Khmer, and the other Vietnamese also speak Khmer credibly
enough. They were all very eager to tell us about their background in order to affirm
that they had lived in Cambodia for a long time and that they don't want to leave
"Now that all the Khmer leaders seem to be in harmony with each other, we are
not so afraid of living in Cambodia," Le The Ba said.