The leader of a Khmer Krom association in Vietnam claimed Thursday that he has fled to Cambodia after hundreds of members of his ethnic group staged anti-Hanoi protests earlier this week.
Kim Sisamnang, leader of the Patriotic Alliance for Khmer Kampuchea Krom, claimed by telephone from Takeo province that the protests started Tuesday in Vietnam’s Soc Trang and Can Tho provinces, neither of which directly borders Cambodia.
“We held the demonstrations because our living standards are getting worse from day to day,” he claimed, adding that he fled to Cambodia on Tuesday after a warrant was allegedly issued for his arrest for inciting the demonstrations.
“The Vietnamese government has neglected us, they have confiscated our lands,” he said. “We want to grow rice. We are saddened by the loss of our lands.”
Kim Sisamnang claimed that he was still organizing protests by telephone and had no intention of seeking asylum in Cambodia.
Khmer Krom refers to ethnic Khmers living in current day southern Vietnam, which was formerly Khmer territory.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he was unaware of the alleged protests, but said Kim Sisamnang could not use Cambodia as a hiding place and that everyone entering Cambodia must have legal travel documents.
“We cannot be involved in [Vietnamese] internal affairs,” he said. “It is against the law.”
Takeo provincial Governor Lay Sokha could not be reached for comment.
The director of the Cambodia-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Friends Association said Vietnamese border police stationed opposite the Prumh Den border checkpoint in Takeo’s Kiri Vong district briefly detained him Wednesday on suspicion of leading the demonstrations.
San Savang claimed from his office in Takeo that he had also helped plan and finance the protests.
“We are not afraid of any imprisonment because we are demanding our indigenous rights with non-violent means,” he said.
Meas Sophoan, Kiri Vong district police chief, said he knew nothing of disturbances in Vietnam, or of San Savang being detained at the border.
Vietnamese Embassy counselor Nguyen Son Thuy said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison.)