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Khmer Krom look to France

Children take part in a protest at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison
Children take part in a protest at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison yesterday that saw hundreds of people gather to demand the release of 17 imprisoned activists, monks and opposition members. Vireak Mai

Khmer Krom look to France

Thach Setha, the president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, says he is planning to lead a group to an unlikely destination: France, the country he accuses of illegally handing over Kampuchea Krom to the Vietnamese in 1949.

But Setha isn’t interested in touring the Riviera or exploring medieval cathedrals.

Rather, he plans to visit French archives in the hope of obtaining colonial-era documents that would be used to force Vietnam to apologise for a spokesman’s remark that southern Vietnam had been Vietnamese – and not Cambodian – land for many centuries.

At a meeting yesterday, Setha told his supporters that he is acting on a reply from the French Embassy to a petition the group filed during demonstrations on October 6.

“The response, dated October 13, told us to select representatives to go to France to pick up coded documents in the archives. Since we do not have money, we postponed this,” Setha said.

But now, the time has come for the trip to become a reality, said Setha, explaining that more than 10 representatives will be selected to go.

Buddhist monks and supporters block a road in front of the Vietnamese Embassy
Buddhist monks and supporters block a road in front of the Vietnamese Embassy last month during a Khmer Krom protest. Vireak Mai

But French Embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudouin said yesterday that the embassy never indicated that Cambodian representatives should to be sent to France to investigate the issue.

“We accepted the petition and responded by saying that regarding this matter, he can very well consult the national overseas archives [in Aix-en-Provence],” said Baudouin.

“Let me be clear: These archives are open to the public, anyone can use them. This is not a favour granted to the president of the association.”

In June, Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trung Van Thong said in a radio interview that Vietnam had ruled Kampuchea Krom for a “very long time”.

The comments sparked protests in Phnom Penh led by Setha, which have continued periodically since.

Van Thong was quietly removed from his post in Cambodia in September, but the nation itself has not apologised.

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