An umbrella group of 12 Khmer Krom associations issued a statement Friday condemning National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin for distancing Cambodia from problems faced by the Khmer Krom.
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Associations were responding to comments by Heng Samrin last week that issues concerning ethnic Khmers in Vietnam were an internal matter for the Vietnamese. Heng Samrin said this after several Khmer Krom groups asked him to intervene on behalf of 13 Buddhist monks who they allege have been defrocked and three who have recently gone missing in Vietnam.
The Friday statement said that Heng Samrin’s comments run contrary to the Constitution, which states in Article 33 that “Khmer citizens residing abroad enjoy the protection of the state.” It also accused Heng Samrin of disregarding the souls of Khmer ancestors.
Contacted by telephone Sunday, Heng Samrin reiterated that he does not think Khmer Krom issues should be included in Cambodia’s affairs, though he does view the Khmer Krom as protected by the Cambodian Constitution.
Because the Khmer Krom live in Vietnam and also receive protection from the Vietnamese, “they must comply with Vietnamese law,” he added. There are millions of Khmer Krom living in Vietnam who do not complain about their circumstances, he said.
Heng Samrin also said he had yet to receive the Friday statement and so was unsure how he would respond.
Thach Setha, president of the Khmer Krom Association in Cambodia, said the Khmer Krom want an official letter from Heng Samrin stating that he recognizes them as Khmer.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith wrote in an e-mail that Heng Samrin’s comments reflect the fact that Kampuchea Krom, located in southern Vietnam, is Vietnamese territory. The government views the Khmer Krom as Khmers living under Vietnamese jurisdiction, he added.
Automatically issuing Cambodian passports or ID papers to all Khmer Krom is out of the question, he wrote, as it would encourage people to immigrate to Cambodia, “creating more social and political problems.”
(Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)