Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Massacre Condemned But...

Massacre Condemned But...

Massacre Condemned But...

The massacre of 33 Vietnamese settlers in Siem Reap highlighted the ambivalent feelings

of many Cambodians and most of the major parties on the question of Vietnamese settlers

in Cambodia.

While the world expressed outrage at the Mar. 10 massacre, the Cambodian factions,

with the exception of the State of Cambodia were initially mute on the issue.

On Mar. 11 when contacted by the Post, FUNCINPEC did not wish to comment on the massacre.

"This is a very sensitive issue. We will have to remain silent on this. We will

not condemn or approve it," a party official said.

The Khmer People's National Liberation Front were the first to go public when they

issued a statement to the press on Mar. 12. "As a party which fully respects

human rights and strictly follows the Buddhist principles, we, the KPNLF, strongly

condemn any acts of violence against humanity." They went on to issue an appeal

which was echoed by subsequent statements. "The KPNLF also urges Vietnam to

immediately call upon her citizens currently living illegally in Cambodia to return

to their homeland." Since the signing of the peace accords, the KPNLF has only

been surpassed by the Khmer Rouge in the frequency and intensity of its anti-Vietnamese

rhetoric. Vietnamese diplomats accused the KPNLF of inciting further massacres.

FUNCINPEC finally came out with a response on Mar. 17. Although the State of Cambodia

(SOC) had immediately accused the Khmer Rouge and UNTAC officials were, at this stage,

also blaming the radical faction for the attack, FUNCINPEC vigorously condemned the

"unidentified assailants" who targeted the innocent civilians.

Speaking from Beijing, Prince Sihanouk expressed his horror at the latest example

of what UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi described as the "hideous practice of ethnic

cleansing." The prince said it appeared that UNTAC and SOC were incapable of

defending ethnic Vietnamese from such attacks and he noted the rising tide of racism

in Cambodia. "Anti-Vietnamese hatred is such that the only reasonable alternative,

left to them, is to leave Cambodia straight away and go and live in Vietnam."

The racial issue is seen as a good testing ground for Cambodia's nascent human rights

organizations. UNTAC officials stated some of them had to be prodded to respond.

OUTREACH, VIGILANCE, ADHOC and LICADHO issued a joint statement affirming that "respect

for the life and dignity of all people regardless of ethnic origin is the fundamental

principle upon which all human rights are based."

Representatives of the first three organizations expressed their concern about "illegal"

Vietnamese immigrants. An OUTREACH official stated that people have the right to

live in their own country. "This right should be protected from interference,

Vietnamese immigration is wrong," he said. A representative of VIGILANCE said

the killings had happened because of the "discrimination which has arisen from

the flood of immigrants." Both men advocated that Vietnamese without any passports

or visas be rounded up and put into camps similar to the Cambodians on the Thai border.

"International law says that these people should live in camps. Cambodian

political immigrants also had to stay in refugee camps in Thailand. This is the law,"

the OUTREACH official stated.

Nobody contests that there has been a big influx of Vietnamese in recent times seeking

a stake in the U.N. inspired "El Dorado." But several observers pointed

to the fact that many ethnic Vietnamese have lived in Cambodia for years or were

born here.

Most of these fled the country to escape Lon Nol's pogroms and the Khmer Rouge's

murderous racial chauvinism and no longer have "papers." Historians confirmed

that Lon Nol's army confiscated the I.D. cards of large numbers of Vietnamese living

here before expelling them from the country. Others lost their identity papers during

the two decades of turmoil.

Akashi highlighted the complexity of the immigrant issue in his statement to the

Supreme National Council on the massacre. "Many of the victims of this cowardly

and senseless display of ethnic violence were women and children. Their menfolk were

simple fishermen on the Tonle Sap. Most, if not all, had been born in Cambodia and

had resided here for most of their lives. Some were third generation Cambodians,"

he said.

A Vietnamese diplomat defended the settlers right to live freely in Cambodia."In

every country there are people who do the work the local people don't want to do.

They comply with the law so the government must protect them. Foreign residents are

not refugees. The idea of camps runs contrary to the joint communique." This

was signed in January 1992 by Prince Sihanouk and Vietnamese Foreign Minister, Nguyen

Manh Cam and stated that the question of Vietnamese immigrants and other pertinent

issues would be settled through peaceful negotiations between the Vietnamese and

the newly elected Cambodian government.

The Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh accused UNTAC of contributing to the atmosphere

of racial intolerance and said the U.N. shared responsibility for the massacre. The

brutal attack happened "only ten days after UNTAC announced and demanded the

expulsion of the so called 'three foreign forces'," the embassy stated.

The Vietnamese officials dismissed the contention that racial hatred was endemic

in Cambodia and went on to express views which some Western observers felt were more

like "wishful thinking."

"Fanning national hatred to get votes is very dangerous for political parties

because it ignores and looks down on the wisdom of the people of Cambodia. They cannot

deceive the people because they will never forget the "killing fields"

and they will vote in the elections against racism," a diplomatic official said.

The diplomatic source claimed rival factions were using racism to make trouble, create

chaos and overthrow the State of Cambodia. "Attacking, massacring and denouncing

the Vietnamese is all aimed at decreasing the credibility and prestige of the State

of Cambodia," SOC spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

Opposition parties were hoping to fan hatred to the point where there would be mass

anti-Vietnamese demonstrations, similar to the bloody pogroms of 1970, he said.

"If there was a clash between the authorities and the demonstrators we will

be accused of being pro-Vietnamese and of fighting our own compatriots in order to

protect the Vietnamese," Kanharith stated. In the event of such demonstrations,

SOC will quickly inform UNTAC and withdraw our forces, UNTAC has to provide security

for the Vietnamese, the spokesman said.

Head of Media Monitoring at UNTAC Information and Education, Sam Borin said the 17

Khmer language newspapers had all been pretty consistent in their coverage of the

attack. The faction's papers went with their party's line and the five supposedly

independent journals all aired similar views, Borin said. Echoing Prince Sihanouk's

remarks, they all condemned the massacre and then added that, since the protection

of the Vietnamese cannot be guaranteed and in the interests of their own safety,

they should go home, he said.

A unique and lone voice speaking against the massacre came from Douc Rasy. Former

Dean of the Law School and Member of the National Assembly, Rasy now heads the Ligue

Cambodienne des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, LCDHC. Rasy questioned the factions'

allegation that UNTAC was responsible for ensuring the security of the Vietnamese.

He disputed Sihanouk's widely accepted view that the Vietnamese should go home.

"Fleeing is not a solution. A crime is committed in Cambodia, her judicial order

is infringed. Suppose in South Vietnam the Khmer Krom are victims of a pogrom, shall

we Cambodians say to them, 'flee to Cambodia' or shall we put the Vietnamese government

before its responsibility," he said.

Rasy added that to defend Cambodia and her system, the people must oppose the massacres

and not force people to run away. If they don't do that, Rasy warned "we recognize

that crime does pay and we open a new killing field."


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