Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Wednesday that he would provide free coffins to those who aspire to invade neighboring Vietnam to reclaim the territory known to Cambodians as Kampuchea Krom.
People should not even think about pursuing the return of Kampuchea Krom, Hun Sen said in a speech at a pagoda inauguration ceremony in Kandal province that was broadcast on radio.
“Some people have claimed that they want to reclaim Khmer Kampuchea Krom. Please, do it if you can,” Hun Sen said.
“I am not able to do it, but I will give you coffins and help to bury your corpses. You invade another country and they will attack you. You are not the only nationalists,” he said.
Once covering the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam, the historic loss of Khmer Kampuchea Krom to waves of Vietnamese settlers is still a highly emotive issue for many Cambodians.
Hun Sen also denied claims that Cambodia had lost vast amounts of land to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam since 1979, the year the Khmer Rouge were toppled by a Vietnamese-backed force who installed the first incarnation of the current CPP-led government.
“People have claimed that Cambodia has been losing land by the border at the rate of 100 meters a day,” he said.
If that figure, Hun Sen added, was calculated from 1979 until today, the country’s western border with Thailand would be in the region of Pursat province and the eastern border with Vietnam would be somewhere in the region of Kompong Chhnang.
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Buddhist Monks Association President Youen Sin said he was not intimidated by the premier’s speech and would continue to demand the return of Kampuchea Krom territory.
“What [Hun Sen] said is right because he cannot help us. He has his own problems,” Youen Sin said.
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community Executive Director Thach Setha said his organization has abandoned the idea of demanding the return of historic Khmer lands that are now under Vietnamese control. Thach Setha said that he would let the government decide on the best way to solve the issue of Kampuchea Krom.
“This is the government’s problem because Khmer Kampuchea Krom land belongs to Cambodia,” he said.
He added, however, that Hun Sen’s speech was a threat against the Khmer Krom community.
“He threatened people. These are not the words of a leader,” Thach Setha said.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said he too did not want the return of Kampuchea Krom but only the lands that Cambodia had when it declared independence from France in 1953 but has since lost, particularly since 1979.
“I have seen it with my own eyes,” Sam Rainsy said of the lost territory.