District Guards Violently Disperse Protest at Vietnam Embassy

About 100 nationalists and ethnic Khmer Krom monks were violently dispersed from outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday after protesting a diplomat’s comments that the former Kampuchea Krom provinces were annexed by Vietnam before 1949.

Vietnamese Embassy First Counselor Tran Van Thong said in a radio interview last month that the provinces had belonged to Vietnam “for a very long time” before the French colonial regime officially ceded them to the new State of Vietnam.

Ethnic Khmer Krom monks and civilian demonstrators jeer at riot police at a roadblock near the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Ethnic Khmer Krom monks and civilian demonstrators jeer at riot police at a roadblock near the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The protesters, many of whom are associated with the opposition CNRP, gathered in front of the embassy to demand that Mr. Thong apologize for his interpretation of the annexation.

“We want the Vietnamese Embassy to show that Kampuchea Krom belonged to them a long time ago,” said Tim Teav, executive director of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, who helped lead the protest. “We have the documents and the evidence that Kampuchea Krom has belonged to the Vietnamese for 65 years.

“They have three months to respond to our demands, and if there is no response, we will hold huge protests,” the student leader said.

At about 8:30 a.m., Chamkar Mon district security guards, who were wearing full-faced helmets and wielding electric batons, emerged at the protest on Monivong Boulevard and began dispersing the crowd.

The guards at first pushed protesters away from the embassy while blowing their whistles, then began to strike with their batons.

Some guards chased and struck those who attempted to escape, with some even hurling their batons at escaping protesters and beginning to beat some bystanders who had gathered to watch the incident.

At the face of the embassy, one guard seized a smartphone being used by a monk. Another protester, who was standing nearby, filmed the seizure with his iPad and then attempted to flee the guards, who seized and kicked him before forcibly taking the tablet computer and escaping.

Footage of the incident, as well as footage of about a dozen of the helmeted guards forcing CNRP lawmaker-elect Real Camerin against a wall and beating and kicking him, spread widely on social media.

At about 9 a.m., riot police moved in and set up roadblocks about 500 meters apart on either side of the embassy at the southern end of Monivong Boulevard. The protesters continued to shout racial epithets at the police, accusing them of being Vietnamese, before dispersing at about 10 a.m.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, reached by phone after the incident, denied any knowledge of the seizure of the phone and tablet computer and defended the protest repression by the district guards.

“We needed to take measures to prevent anarchy,” he said.

Mr. Thong, the diplomat whose remarks sparked the protest, could not be reached for comment, but the Vietnamese Embassy released a statement condemning the protest and recapitulating his comments.

“The Embassy consider this move an act of intervention into the sovereignty and internal affairs of Viet Nam,” it said.

The former Kampuchea Krom territory was administered by France as its Cochinchina colony between 1862 and the recognition of the State of Vietnam in 1949. It had been under Vietnamese control since the mid-17th century, when the country’s rulers capitalized on internal discord in Cambodia and widespread Vietnamese migration to the territory to seize it.

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