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Trouble in the east

Trouble in the east

The Editor,

M uch of 1995 saw anniversary recollections of "the fall of Saigon", "the

betrayal of South Vietnam", "the end of the 'Vietnam' War", and so

on. Rarely is the abandonment of Laos and Cambodia mentioned. This is not surprising

considering the history of how Cambodia has been subjected to territorial amputation

at various times in the past, with Vietnam being the most covetous of Khmer land.

Therefore, the outcry being voiced over recent Vietnamese incursions is justified.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that the global community will react as it

did when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

We only have to go back to the end of World War II to verify the violation of Cambodia's

sovereignty and the apparent willingness to pander to Annam's desires. The legitimization

of the dismemberment of Cambodia was carried out, despite official protestations.

The victors in World War II turned a deaf ear to Cambodia's appeal for justice.

Witness Cochinchina. Cochin-china was, from the time of its inception, never anything

more than an attempt to create a "Hong Kong on the Mekong", first by Portugal,

then by the more determined French. The French predilection to seed the zone with

Chinese merchants and numbers of Vietnamese settlers was not without purpose. Neither

had the bond to the land that was characteristic recollection of this affront to

the Cambodian "Lic Tuk", could serve well as an instrument in the recruitment

of Cambodians and Khmer Krom by U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After

all, the Khmer were fighting for their ancestral lands as much as they were fighting

the communist forces.

The Cochinchina colony/Republic, would prove to be a valuable focus of motivation

for Ho Chi Minh's propaganda machine. The old Nam-Viet objective of peninsular subjugation

was to continue, this time it would be carried out under the banner of revolution,

the Nam Tien, or southward movement" would hide behind a red flag with a gold


The whittling of Cambodia began in earnest during the decline of the Khmer Empire,

which included a perimeter confederation of tributaries in the north of the Southeast

Asian peninsula that served as outposts for the nuclear nation-state, which, over

time was known in succession as Funan, Chenla, and Angkor. It would be the direct

descendants of the Yueh/Lac Viet meld who would hone the war-waging skills they utilized

to break from their Chinese relative overlords in the 1500's, who would in turn,

beginning with Le, formalize the Nam Viet scheme to eventually consume the Southeast

Asian peninsula. That quest would be sustained in an almost genetic-like continuity

over the years, albeit in the form of various guides of convenience and cunning.

On more than one occasion Cambodia has provided sanctuary to various refugees of

conflict in the region over the past several hundred years. Most notable among those

refugee groups were two in particular. One being Chams, the inhabitants of the former

Kingdom of Champa, an Islamic entity that occupied an area that was located in what

is approximately the middle-third of today's Vietnam. The fishing and merchants trades

supported the society that also had its own unique culture, whose ruins may still

be found on rare occasion today. It was Champa that would fall to the relentless

Vietnamese aggression in the late 1500's. Cambodia's Kompong Cham province, with

its significant Cham descendant population, stands as testimony to wholesale eviction

of a people.

Oddly enough, one other significant refugee group to be harbored by Cambodia was

the occasional flight of Vietnamese Christians. It was a recurring event in which

a Vietnamese ruler would attempt to suppress the religious inroads made by Portuguese

and French missionary programs. The Catholic minority was a regular target of purges

meant to dissuade potential converts.

Regional and global turbulence in the 20th century has seen Cambodia relegated to

the stature of a "victim" in Southeast Asia. Her molding as a French Protectorate

as interrupted in World War II when Japan swept across Indochina. Cambodia was at

that time being dictated to by two foreign powers at the same time by virtue of the

"working relationship" between Paris and Tokyo. After the war, France was

handed back the reins of power over Cambodia. A chance for Cambodia's reclamation

of her territory would have presented itself had the suggestion in a memo from the

U.S. State Department's Division of Far Eastern Affairs, dated 21 April 1945, been

made a reality. That memo proposed that Indochinese border and territorial issues

be dealt with by "an impartial international commission." No such commission

has been formed. For Cambodia's claims, the only thing approaching such a forum was

a series of orchestrated conferences in France in November and June of 1948. As expected,

Paris did in 1948 as it had done in 1856, 1870, 1883, 1904, 1914, and 1932... in

spite of documentary evidence, and the obvious wealth of cultural and archaeologically

historic evidence, the pandering to the Vietnamese by the French, Bao Dai in particular,

would continue. A U.S. wink was as good as an endorsement.

As the Vietnam War boiled up, Ho Chi Minh, the standard-bearer of the Indochinese

Communist Party, would take up the masquerade of claiming the Mekong River Delta.

His pledge to "unite the Nam Bo, a welding of Cochinchina and Annam, was indicative

of the centuries-old Nam Viet mind-set. In making that pledge, Ho not only committed

to expelling the French, and later the Americans, he would also be mounting a purge

of Khmers/ Cambodians and the other non-Communist minorities in the Delta, among

them being the Montagnards, Jarai, and Rhade.

The fact that the Delta was rightfully Cambodia's must have been given some consideration

by the U.S., not in such forthright language, but rather in a more inferentially-laden

diplo-speak, such as is often utilized when dealing with "hot-button" issues.

Early on in the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. awareness of Khmer/Cambodian

disdain for Vietnamese occupation of the Cochinchina area was evident. In April of

1945, State Department official G.H. Blakeslee prepared a memo intended for President

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which such Khmer-Viet animosity was noted as one premise

for accepting France's continued quasi-governance of her former colonies. It was

thought that by doing so, France could regain some of her lost "face",

and therefore be more amicable in other global matters where French involvement would

be advantageous.

Further, in a somewhat prophetic statement in a telegram to Secretary of State George

C. Marshall (21 July 1947), U.S. Vice Consul in Hanoi, James L. O' Sullivan stated

that: an "independent Viet Nam, whether Soviet-oriented or not, and absence

of a protecting power (for Cambodia and Laos) such as French, could be expected to

resume encroachment upon Mekong Delta which was interrupted by French occupation

in 1860. Vietnamese "migration" to southern plains has gone on for ten

centuries and probably will continue".

And as thus predicted, after the abandonment of Cambodia and Laos in 1975 to the

communists, the Vietnamese hegemony would resume. The December 1978 invasion of Cambodia

was ostensibly for the purpose of "liberating" the population from the

tentacles of Pol Pot and the genocidal Khmer Rouge. It turned out to be something

more akin to a bamboo version of the Trojan horse tactic.

In a strange twist, the U.S. and others soon lent tacit support to a coalition army

and its handful of compliant Cambodian officials. As a member of the coalition, the

Khmer Rouge forces were, not surprisingly, the most effective against their former

communist allies. Allies that was, until 1974, when the communist Vietnamese cover

of unity with their Cambodian contemporaries began to thin and the age-old Nam-Viet

persona surfaced and laid bare the falsity of Ho chi Minh's Indochinese Communist


Not until the negotiations that led to the 1992 Paris Accords on the Cambodian "civil

war", did Vietnamese troops begin to roll back to the east to a Vietnam that

is, in the opinion of many, no more geographically legitimate now than it was at

the time of the so-called "unification" in 1975 when the U.S. withdrew

from the region.

Before Ho Chi Minh city was Saigon, it was Prey Nokor, the true name of the ancient

Khmer town. and to this day that name is used by the Khmer who live under oppression

of the Vietnamese regime. In their historical home in the Delta, Cambodians are discouraged

from speaking their native Khmer language, worshipping in customary fashion, and

forbidden from partaking in traditional festivals and rights of passage. No, today

the Khmers are not being bled of their cultural soul by a foreign authority in Hanoi.

It is perhaps a gradual "bleaching" form of ethnic-cleansing.

And as stark evidence that Vietnam, no matter what version of name it may adopt,

is still driven to consume its neighbors, the past three years have seen Cambodia

loose parcels of land to what is called "midnight annexations".

The tactic utilizes the well established diversion of first, filtering-in groups

of "farmers" into the targeted area of Cambodian territory just across

the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. As of late, the prime areas have been in Cambodia's

Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Kompong Cham provinces.

Gradually, over a period of months, the area is expanded deeper into Cambodian territory.

Eventually, small military units are introduced and any existing border markers are

moved appropriately and the "annexation" is accomplished, most often under

the protection of darkness. The most recent and flagrant attempt at this practice

of acquisition occurred already this year (January 1996), resulting in a Cambodian

threat of military response and an official protest expressed by Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The likelihood of Hanoi's response being anything more than a typical diplomatically-worded

statement regarding the numerous incidents, and a hollow call for "discussions",

is remote.

No doubt, these incidents will continue at any number of places on the Cambodian-Vietnamese

border on some moonless night in the not too distant future.

So, if anyone has the desire to write about a people truly "struggling to gain

sovereignty over their soil" and liberating their national soul" .....

it is Cambodia they should look to. Cambodia deserves what is rightfully hers.
- Jim Yost, Texas, USA.


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