About 1,000 ethnic Khmer Krom monks and Khmer nationalists will hold the first formal protest this morning at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park since authorities re-opened it last week after seven months of a high-security lockdown.
The municipality over the weekend approved plans from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community (KKKC) to use the space for its campaign for an apology from a Vietnamese Embassy official who said that the territory of South Vietnam has long been held by the Vietnamese.
“We will meet our supporters at 8 a.m. and walk to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and then hand our petitions to Asian embassies, including Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos,” said KKKC executive director Tach Setha, who said the activists would then march to the Vietnamese Embassy.
The campaign follows two previous protests that also ended at the Vietnamese Embassy. The last time, on July 22, embassy officials refused to take a petition from the protesters.
“Its behavior…looks down on the Khmer people since they did not come out and answer our petition,” said Mr. Setha, who is also a member of the opposition CNRP’s 26-member standing committee.
In June, Vietnamese Embassy first counselor Tran Van Thong drew the ire of the monks and nationalists when he said in an interview that the former Cambodian provinces belonged to Vietnam long before France officially ceded them in 1949.
More than a million ethnic Khmer Krom still live in the territory today, according to Vietnamese government figures, but activists claim that the population is in fact 10 times the official figure and accuse Vietnam’s government of widespread human rights abuses against the ethnic minority group.
On Saturday, the same day that this morning’s protest was announced by the KKKC, CNRP President Sam Rainsy posted to his Facebook page a call for Cambodians to unite to help protect the country’s territory from future invasions.
“Cambodia’s history over the last 500 years shows that our country lost large portions of its territory to its neighbors on both its eastern and western sides,” wrote Mr. Rainsy.
“This year 2014 and the next few years represent the last chance for Cambodians to unite in order to prevent any foreign country from taking any pretext and seizing any opportunity to further annex our land and eventually to suppress our country.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)
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