Hundreds of Buddhist monks, opposition politicians and laypeople gathered Wednesday in Phnom Penh to mark the 65th anniversary of the day France officially turned over its Cochinchina colony, which included the former Kampuchea Krom provinces, to the State of Vietnam.
Phnom Penh City Hall had on Monday banned the city’s Wat Samakki Raingsey from hosting a public forum at the ceremony, fearing a rise in racial tension, but the opposition leaders present Wednesday freely took turns blasting the government for its supposed subservience to Vietnam.
Inside Wat Samakki Raingsey, which is about 60 percent populated by ethnic Khmer Krom monks and is often seen as a refuge of last resort for members of the minority, CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha promised to make June 4 a national holiday if the opposition party comes to power.
He then launched into a tirade against the Vietnamese.
“We have seen that the yuon have used the CPP and Mr. Hun Sen to eliminate the Khmer race and Khmer tradition, and now you have seen what they have done to the water festival,” Mr. Sokha said, referring to the holiday in 2010, when 353 people were killed in a stampede on Koh Pich.
“They created the scene to kill Khmers at Koh Pich during [the] water festival,” he said.
Yuon is a term for Vietnamese that is often considered derogatory.
France’s Cochinchina colony, which included the former provinces of Kampuchea Krom, or Southern Cambodia, was officially ceded to Vietnam in 1949, but had in reality been under Vietnamese control since the mid-17th century, when its rulers capitalized on a country stifled by internal struggles.
Since Hanoi took control, the Khmer Krom living in Vietnam—believed to number considerably more than one million—have been severely suppressed, with the Buddhist faith and Khmer language at times outlawed.
Son Soubert, a prominent opposition member who comes from a Kampuchea Krom family, spoke more mildly to the crowd of about 600, focusing on the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
“King Norodom Sihanouk demanded that Kampuchea Krom be recognized as the land of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” said Mr. Soubert, who is also the son of former prime minister and resistance leader Son Sann.
Princess Sisowath Pong Neary Monipong, a representative of the Royal Palace, closed the ceremony Wednesday, saying she neither “praised nor blamed” the speakers or the issues that were discussed.
“I just want to remind that today we hold a Buddhist ceremony,” she said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that proceedings Wednesday had violated the ban put in place on holding a public forum.