Khmer Krom Protesters Blocked From Vietnamese Embassy

Thousands of ethnic Khmer Krom monks and supporters marched through Phnom Penh on Monday, delivering petitions to six embassies with little interference before being met by barricades and riot police at their final destination —the Vietnamese Embassy.

The crowd, fronted by about 200 monks and led by Tach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, was seeking a retraction or apology from the embassy. In June, first counselor Tran Van Thong said the provinces of Kampuchea Krom belonged to Vietnam long before France officially ceded them in 1949.

Li Chan Nen leads a march of ethnic Khmer Krom monks and other protesters to seven embassies in Phnom Penh on Monday. The protesters were blocked by riot police outside the Vietnamese Embassy, where they had intended to deliver a petition seeking an apology for a diplomat's comments in June that Kampuchea Krom belonged to Vietnam long before it was officially handed over by France in 1949. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Li Chan Nen leads a march of ethnic Khmer Krom monks and other protesters to seven embassies in Phnom Penh on Monday. The protesters were blocked by riot police outside the Vietnamese Embassy, where they had intended to deliver a petition seeking an apology for a diplomat’s comments in June that Kampuchea Krom belonged to Vietnam long before it was officially handed over by France in 1949. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

But after being ushered through the streets by traffic police on much of the cross-city march—with stops at the French, British, U.S., E.U., Russian and Chinese embassies—protesters were met by tall black barricades and police with smoke-grenade launchers.

“We simply want a representative of the embassy to come and accept our letter and to apologize for the comments that contradict the facts of history,” said Mr. Setha, who is also a member of the opposition CNRP’s standing committee.

“If they don’t want to apologize, they can just recognize the facts,” he said. “It is very easy for them.”

As crowds of hundreds gathered at traffic police roadblocks set up on either side of the Vietnamese Embassy on Monivong Boulevard in the morning, more than 1,000 people made their way around the city. The marchers asked the French Embassy to provide official documents to prove the annexation of Kampuchea Krom, and asked the other five embassies for support in its bid to have the Vietnamese Embassy change its official position on the territory.

At about 11 a.m., after the Chinese Embassy had accepted the protesters’ letter, a group of monks turned onto Monivong Boulevard, tossed aside lightweight metal barricades and marched full force toward the police line.

However, a second line of heavy-duty barricades halted the group and the protesters spent much of the day in a one-way conversation with the police—some slinging racist anti-Vietnamese insults while others called for their “brothers” in the police force to abandon their posts and join the protest.

“Are Khmer going to fight the Khmer on behalf of the Vietnamese?” one monk asked the police.

At about 4:30 p.m.—after claiming that protesters would sleep in the street until their letter was received—Mr. Setha put an end to the day’s proceedings, announcing that a working group would meet with City Hall today to discuss delivery of the letter.

Long Dimanche, spokesman for City Hall, which had said that people protesting Monday could face up to 15 years in prison, confirmed that a meeting would be held.

However, Mao Pises, president of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, which organized the protest, said they would not accept any solution other than handing the petition to a representative of the embassy.

“We will talk to City Hall to find out how we can hand our letter to the Vietnamese Embassy,” Mr. Pises said.

“But we cannot let City Hall take our petition on behalf of the Vietnamese Embassy because it is not their subject.”

Thach Ha Sam Ang, a Khmer Krom activist monk, said that protests would continue until the Vietnamese Embassy accepts the letter.

“If they do not accept, we continue mass demonstrations this week, next week, next month,” he said.

An official at the Vietnamese Embassy declined to comment.

dara@cambodiadaily.com, blomberg@cambodiadaily.com

© 2014, All rights reserved.