An American-based Kampuchea Krom organization is calling for the formation of a Cambodia-based
body to monitor alleged human rights abuses of Vietnam's ethnic "Khmer Krom"
Edward Tuon Son and Sereivuth Prak, representatives of California's Kampuchea Krom
Federation (KKF) lobbied Cambodian government officials from Dec 18-24 2000 to permit
the establishment of a KKF "human rights monitoring" office in Phnom Penh.
"We are here to thank the Cambodian government for giving good treatment to
Khmer Krom and futhermore we are seeking approval from the government of Cambodia
set up an office in Phnom Penh," Son said of his motivations for visiting the
Son and Prak outlined the need for a new Cambodia-based organization devoted to the
human rights concerns of Vietnam's ethnic Khmer minority during an audience with
King Norodom Sihanouk and in a meeting with opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
"The King expressed concern about his children in the Mekong Delta," Son
said of the King's reaction to his proposal.
Kampuchea Krom, which literally means "lower Cambodia", comprises 67,700
square kilometers of territory once historically part of the Khmer empire but which
over the centuries has been absorbed into Vietnam. There are an estimated eight million
ethnic Khmer Krom living in Vietnam.
According to Son, the sufferings of the "Khmer Krom" people parallel those
of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and the East Timorese at the hands of the Indonesians.
"We need to persuade the United Nations and the international community to examine
human rights abuses in Kampuchea Krom," Son said. "We really don't have
statistics regarding the extent of the abuse because there are no human rights organizations
[in Vietnam]. Everything we learn about their situation comes from expatriate [ethnic
Khmer] who visited their relatives in their home villages".
Prak said the religion, culture and freedom of expression of ethnic "Khmer Krom"
in Vietnam were being systematically suppressed by Vietnamese authorities.
As proof, he quoted from the 1999 report to the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights by the Special Rappateur on Religious Intolerance in Vietnam, which stated
the "Khmer Krom" are victims of "...religious oppression, cultural
dilution, and ethnic ostracism, if not outright racism."
Such information is anything but news for Yont Tharo, Coordinator of the Kampuchea
Krom Human Rights and Development Association in Phnom Penh,
However, Tharo worries about the effect that the KKF's high
profile campaign to publicize the human rights situation of "Khmer Krom"
in Vietnam might have on his and other Cambodia-based Kampuchea Krom organizations.
"If we talk about the reality of human rights abuses in Kampuchea Krom, we could
be accused of involvement in an anti-Vietnamese political movement and be arrested
and put in jail," he said.
National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh was more supportive of the KKF's
plans however, telling the Post on Jan 11 that the Cambodian constitution allows
Cambodians to freely form associations and political parties.
Prince Ranariddh added that the plight of ethnic Khmer Krom in Vietnam was an issue
of personal concern for him.
"I dare not to say this on behalf of the government but in my opinion [Vietnam's
ethnic Khmer] are still part of the Khmer family," the Prince said. "I
greatly very regret the loss of [Kampuchea Krom] territory and the King has never
acknowledged Vietnam's sovereignty over Kampuchea Krom."
The KKF's Phnom Penh-based Vice-President Tia Then's summation of the plight of Vietnam's
ethnic "Khmer Krom" minority reflected a similar defiance of historical
and geographical reality.
"We are the owners of the Mekong Delta, our land and our families are there,
but we don't have rights or freedom," he said.