Cambodia may ask the US to extradite royalist parliamentarian Thach Sang, self-confessed leader of an ethnic Khmer movement sworn to end Hanoi’s control of the Mekong Delta region, Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng said Wednesday.
Sar Kheng would not comment on the evidence compiled against Thach Sang and the newly formed Kampuchea Krom National Liberation Front.
But, seeking Thach Sang’s extradition would likely follow the work of a high-level police and military investigation in Cambodia, Sar Kheng said.
“This would be the next step,” Sar Kheng said by telephone.
“Now we are not yet thinking about that. We are collecting the evidence,” he said.
Protected by parliamentary immunity, Thach Sang—who is currently living in the US—has not yet been charged with any crime.
Last week police sent a report to National Assembly and royalist Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh outlining the case against Thach Sang.
A Funcinpec member said Wednesday the feeling inside the party was Thach Sang will be expelled, leaving the way open for his criminal prosecution.
“It is not good,” the Funcinpec member said on condition of anonymity.
Kampuchea Krom, a territory engulfing most of the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, is home to a large population of ethnic Khmers and has long been claimed as Cambodian territory.
The loss of Kampuchea Krom to Vietnam has been an emotional, but largely background, issue until 2,000 people protested in Phnom Penh in June demanding that Hanoi end alleged human rights abuses against the ethnic Khmer population.
Thach Sang said by telephone from the US state of Massachusetts on Monday the group he leads is not an armed movement but would become one if Hanoi does not relinquish claims to Kampuchea Krom.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh has reacted angrily to the KKNLF threat and denies all charges of ethnic discrimination.
Cambodia’s recognition of the legal status of ethnic Khmers from Vietnam has also become a contested issue in recent weeks.
Ethnic Khmer advocacy groups attacked Sar Kheng on Wednesday for his recently stated policy of granting Cambodian residency only to ethnic Khmers from Vietnam who hold official documentation of their claims to Cambodian blood.
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Coordination Committee—an umbrella group of seven organizations—said Wednesday ethnic Khmers from Vietnam, with or without documents, were still Khmer.
Many don’t have documents because they fled Vietnam and are now living in Cambodia.
“The word “illegal immigrant” cannot be used for Khmer Kampuchea Krom people,” the committee said in a statement, which also requested a meeting with Sar Kheng to discuss the issue further.