Two days after holding meetings in Phnom Penh to discuss human rights abuses against the ethnic Khmer community in Vietnam, European Parliamentarian Marco Pannella and Italian Senator Marco Perduca were prevented from entering Vietnam on Tuesday, despite holding valid visas.
Though they had acquired Vietnamese visas in Rome on Dec 16, Pannella and Perduca said at a news conference in Phnom Penh that they were barred from boarding their flight from Phnom Penh International Airport to Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday morning.
A Vietnamese travel agency, Vungtau Intourco Hanoi, through which the pair had booked their flights, sent a faxed message Tuesday stating that they were refused entry for failing to properly supply a detailed schedule of their trip.
“The Vietnamese Embassy [in Rome] asked us to send them the itinerary and the hotel reservations, and we sent them the itinerary entering Vietnam through Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, and eventually moving to Hanoi,” Perduca told reporters.
Pannella said he suspected the airing of an Italian radio program Sunday in which he said he intended to raise alleged human rights abuses against the Khmer community in Vietnam played a role in them being denied entry.
Serving as an interpreter for Pannella, who spoke in French, Perduca said comments made by Pannella could be taken as encouraging public protests in Vietnam, but he said that was not Pannella’s intention.
Pannella also said they had been notified Tuesday afternoon by the Italian Embassy in Hanoi that the Vietnamese government had reported receiving threats against the men, putting their “lives at risk” should they travel there.
Pannella, however, said he considered such threats an “honor” and that they would not detract him from his mission.
Trinh Ba Cam, spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said he knew nothing of the pair being refused entry, noting that it was an issue between the men and the travel agency.
Perduca said he and Pannella were in the region not on official diplomatic visits, but as members of the Transnational Radical Party.
As such, he said, the trip to Cambodia had been made with three goals in mind: to visit with members of the SRP; to meet with Khmer Krom leaders in Phnom Penh; and to better “understand” the situation of the Montagnard refugees from Vietnam who have fled to Cambodia.
Now, the pair said they will remain in Cambodia until Dec 27 at the latest, when they are scheduled to fly to India to visit the Dalai Lama.
In the meantime, Perduca said, the Italian Embassy in Hanoi and Vietnamese Embassy officials in Rome will continue to discuss the issue and search for a solution.
In October, a European Parliament resolution called for Vietnam to do more to end “violation of democracy and human rights” within its borders; the resolution specifically mentioned the country’s ethnic Khmers.