Activist Urges Citizenship for VN Ethnic Khmer

An opposition party senator and Khmer Kampuchea Krom activist is urging the Cambodian government to allow ethnic Khmer Krom people living in both Vietnam and Cambodia to register as Cambodian citizens.

Senator Thach Setha, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, will send a letter to the Ministry of Interior today to lobby on behalf of those living in the two countries.

“Those people are Cambod­ians,” Thach Setha said Tuesday.

“I think it is political that Khmer Kampuchea people can’t be allowed to register,” he said.

The territory known as Kampu­chea Krom in the Mekong Delta region once belonged to Cam­bodia but was handed over to Vietnam under French colonial rule in 1949. Some Khmer Krom activist groups have since lobbied for their separation from Viet­nam, claiming mistreatment.

Thousands of Khmer Krom people now reside in Cambodia, and even they cannot obtain citizenship, Thach Setha said. “They just don’t like Vietnam because they have suffered,” he said.

Ouk Kheang, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Registra­tion Office, said Tuesday that Khmer Krom people living in the contested territory before 1949 are allowed to register as Cam­bod­ian citizens. But, he said, “The issue is complicated.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government supported recognizing Khmer Krom people as Cambodian nationals. But, he said, a new law is needed to control the registration process.

“We are preparing the law to make it easy, to ensure Khmer Kam­puchea Krom people who [register] are really Cambodians,” he said. “The government considers them as Cambodians so we must have a measure” to clarify its stance, he added.

Thach Setha charg­ed the government has done little. “The government in the Sang­kum Reastr Niyum [in the 1950s and 1960s] regarded Khmer Kampuchea Krom like brothers, but it seems that since we’ve had the new government, there’s no support.”

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