National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun on Wednesday rejected reports in Vietnamese media that Assembly President Heng Samrin had assured the Vietnamese prime minister that protesters would be punished for burning the country’s flag in front of its embassy in Phnom Penh last week.
Returning from a three-day state visit to Hanoi, Mr. Vun said Mr. Samrin had told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung that no action would be taken against the nationalists who had been demanding a retraction of controversial remarks made by a Vietnamese diplomat, because Cambodia is a democracy.
“Heng Samrin made it very clear, and I want to make it clear again too, that in the democratic multi-party regime of Cambodia we are not under the regime of Vietnam and we cannot prevent people holding demonstrations, and therefore the demonstration is normal in a democratic regime,” Mr. Vun said.
“I have heard the news that the radio and newspapers reported that [Mr. Samrin] said the Cambodia government will take action against the Khmer Kampuchea Krom demonstrators [but] this is not true…we strongly reject it,” he added.
In an article published Monday, Vietnam’s Nhandan newspaper paraphrases Mr. Samrin as telling Mr. Dung that he regretted the demonstrations against Vietnam, which “were conducted by a group of extremists who were incited by some elements with no knowledge of the history of the two countries.”
However, Mr. Vun said it was Mr. Dung who had labeled the nationalist protesters “extremists.”
“He used the strong word, saying that extremists had burned the Vietnamese flag,” Mr. Vun said.
“[He] said it affected the spirit and heart of the Vietnamese and requested us to take action to prevent it from happening again.”
The burning of the Vietnamese flag on August 12 was the culmination of two rounds of demonstrations against comments made in June by Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Tran Van Thong.
Mr. Thong had said on the radio that the provinces of Kampuchea Krom—in present-day southern Vietnam—had been under Vietnamese control long before France officially ceded them in 1949.
The protesters marched through Phnom Penh on two separate three-day demonstrations delivering petitions to embassies and state institutions asking for support in their quest for a retraction of Mr. Thong’s comments.
At the Vietnamese Embassy, where the protesters were met by riot police and heavy barricades at the end of each march, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche received the petition on behalf of the embassy, further enraging demonstrators.
On Wednesday, Mr. Vun told reporters that Mr. Samrin had explained the protesters’ stance to the Vietnamese prime minister.
“He made it clear that the Khmer people were not doing this demonstration for no reason—it is due to the wrong interpretation of history,” he said.