A Khmer Kampuchea Krom association alleged Tuesday that commune officials have extorted money from members who tried to register as Cambodian citizens.
Commune officials have also forced ethnic Khmer Krom people to falsify their place of birth if they were born in territory that has since been ceded to Vietnam, the association said.
“Khmer Kampuchea Krom have to bribe government officials in order to get their vital status,” said Thuon Saren, secretary-general of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Coordination Committee, an umbrella group representing 12 associations.
Presiding at a news conference on the status of Khmer Krom people, Thuon Saren said members seeking to register with local authorities were asked to pay $50 to commune officials, though officially there is no fee.
Without proper registration, Khmer Krom people are unable to attend public schools or get proper employment, Thuon Saren said. Government officials on Tuesday denied discriminating against Khmer Krom people, but said people born in Vietnam should be designated Vietnamese citizens. Khmer Krom who hail from territory in the lower Mekong Delta forfeited in 1949 to Vietnam have campaigned for full Cambodian citizenship.
“Khmer Kampuchea Krom are Vietnamese citizens,” said Sak Setha, director of general staff at the Interior Ministry. “Only people …documented as having been born in Cambodia should be allowed to register with authorities.”
But, he added, “To charge money is not the government’s policy. If we found out who accepted that money, we will punish them.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia is sympathetic to the plight of the Khmer Krom. “If we discriminate against them, then why do we allow them to form an association here?” he said.