S INCE Vietnamese President Le Duc Anh and Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet wrote letters to King Sihanouk and Prince Ranariddh outlining their fears and the King urged a review of the Immigration Law, the issue has become a matter of fierce debate.
Both Hanoi's Ambassador to Cambodia Tran Huy Chuong and UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali have voiced concern about the law in the wake of its passage through parliament.
Boutros-Ghali wrote to King Norodom Sihanouk and the Co-Premiers, urging Cambodia to meet a request by Vietnam for urgent talks on the issue.
Meanwhile in a rare interview Ambassador Tran told the Post of his fears about the implementation of the law. The worst case scenario he presented was that of civilians being expelled in large numbers. "We are deeply concerned that the Vietnamese residents who are now living peacefully in Cambodia would be grouped in camps, purged and expelled en masse," he said.
"It should be noted that due to the war and upheaval in the past decades, a large number of ethnic Vietnamese, including persons who have settled down for a long time, possibly are not in possession of personal documents and would thus become the victims of expulsion. That would obviously run counter to His Majesty the King's desire and the policy he once pursued.
"The law is implemented while Cambodia does not have a nationality law clarifying who is entitled to Cambodian citizenship. [The Vietnamese government] is afraid that ethnic Vietnamese who have really lived in Cambodia for generations and who are entitled to Cambodian citizenship if they so wished, or at least the right to continue living normally in the country, should be deprived of that legitimate right.," he said.
The ambassador also asserted it was right for Hanoi to raise these issues, despite accusations from some Khmer MPs that it was an interference in the country's internal affairs.
"On an issue which has caused deep concern among Vietnamese residents in Cambodia and world public opinion, it is impossible for the government of Vietnam not to express its legitimate concerns," he said.
The ambassador also described the situation of ethnic Khmers in Vietnam, saying that Khmers were one of the 54 ethnic minorities living in his country.
He said that Article 1 of the Vietnamese Nationality Law states that "all members of all ethnic groups hold Vietnamese nationality."
He quoted from his country's Constitution to prove that there was no official discrimination.
"Article 5 of our Constitution says: 'The state carries out a policy of equality, solidarity and mutual assistance among all nationalities, and forbids all acts of national discrimination and division,'" he stressed.
On the difficult question of determining which Vietnamese civilians were living in the country legally, Tran said that during Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet's April visit to the country, it was agreed to set up a joint working group to resolve the issue.