The head of the parliamentary foreign affairs commission yesterday denied Vietnamese media reports that National Assembly President Heng Samrin told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung he would take “strict action” to prevent further Khmer Krom-led protests against Vietnam.
The reports, widely picked up by Cambodian media, said Samrin had painted protesters as “extremists”. But senior CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun yesterday claimed that Samrin actually told Vietnam on Monday that demonstrations were allowed in Cambodia and that the protesters had a legitimate reason to take to the streets.
“I heard media reported that Samdech Chakrey [Samrin] said that the Cambodian government will take actions against the protesters, which I would like to affirm is wrong,” he told reporters at a specially convened press conference.
“I would like to be clear in this point that you [Khmer media] and [we] have to listen to each other as we are Khmer, and you have to wait until we are [back] here to confirm before broadcasting.”
Protesters converged outside the Vietnamese Embassy for three consecutive days last week to demand an apology for statements made in early June by a spokesman about Vietnam’s long historical sovereignty over the former Kampuchea Krom provinces – which they say is a false interpretation of history.
A Vietnamese flag was burned at one protest, drawing swift condemnation from Hanoi. The matter was raised again with Samrin during an official visit to Vietnam on Monday, Vun said, but the assembly president had explained that Cambodia is a democracy where nonviolent protest is allowed.
“What the president told the Vietnamese prime minister means that we know what we are doing and there is no need to tell us to do something in a democratic country,” Vun said.
“Samdech also affirmed that the demonstration had not just happened without any reason – it had arisen from a wrong historical interpretation.”
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong delivered a similar message to protesters directly in a private meeting on Tuesday, according to activists present.
The government has long been accused of being subservient to Vietnam, which occupied Cambodia in the 1980s, but has largely tolerated the recent protests.