CPP Lawmaker to Apologize for Insult to Bunong Minority

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun yesterday said he would heed a call to apologize for using the name of one of the country’s ethnic minorities to insult a politician on the floor of the National Assembly, but he continued to insist that he never intended to slur the Bunong.

Mr. Vun used the term Bunong —the name of an ethnic minority in northeastern Cambodia—to describe Human Rights Party (HRP) President Kem Sokha as uncivilized during a debate at the assembly earlier this month.

Following the incident, the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA) submitted a letter to National Assembly President Heng Samrin demanding that Mr. Vun be made to publicly apologize for insulting the Bunong.

Mr. Vun, whose first reaction was to deny that the Bunong even existed, said yesterday that he would apologize at the next meeting of the National Assembly, which has yet to be scheduled.

“I will apologize in public the next time the National Assembly meets,” he said. “I very much regret it and I want to clear up this word that offended their feelings.”

Mr. Vun said his change of heart came after reading about the Bunong and learning that the ethnic minority had officially been placed under state jurisdiction in the 1960s and was recognized as a distinct minority by the Interior Ministry.

CIYA chairwoman Yun Mane said she welcomed the news of Mr. Vun’s forthcoming apology, but still expected more from the lawmaker.

“We also want Mr. Vun to apologize in our traditional way. When someone does something wrong among the Bunong, they have to apologize with an animal [sacrifice] for our ancestors,” she said, adding that usually a sacrificed ox would be donated to the eldest villager.

Mr. Vun declined to say whether his apology would extend that far.

The lawmaker did say that he was still upset with HRP leader Mr. Sokha, however, and that the opposition party leader ought to be punished for breaking the assembly’s rules of procedure.

The row began when Mr. Sokha used the occasion of a November 14 meeting of the National Assembly —meant to focus on international conventions on nuclear safety and non-proliferation—to talk about the deteriorating situation of human rights in Cambodia. When he finished, Mr. Vun stood up to berate him, at which point he referred to Mr. Sokha derisively as a Bunong—which in the Khmer language is a traditional slur to denote backward or uncivilized behavior.

Angered by the pejorative use of the word, Mr. Sokha slammed his fist on the table and led 20 other op-position lawmakers in a walkout from the parliamentary debate.

“I am angry with Kem Sokha and the rest of the opposition, who slammed and shouted when I gave my speech,” Mr. Vun said. “They should stand up to talk like me, not act uncultured like that and break the rules.”

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