The opposition CNRP released a statement Friday asserting that there is no anti-Vietnamese sentiment in the party, that the word yuon is not derogatory and that such allegations are generally spread by foreigners manipulated by the ruling CPP.
In last year’s election, some ethnic Vietnamese were prevented from voting. During the campaign, CNRP supporters frequently told CPP supporters that they had Khmer bodies, but “yuon” heads.
On Friday, the CNRP dismissed as groundless the charges of racism and of spreading of anti-Vietnamese sentiment. The party said “yuon” is an historic word that has simply become a synonym for people of Vietnamese descent.
The allegation of racism was “alien to any ordinary Cambodian citizen, stems from ignorance of Cambodia’s political environment and the Khmer language, culture and history on the part of many Westerners, who then easily fall prey to political manipulation orchestrated by the ruling CPP,” the statement says.
Experts who claimed that the word was racially charged were being paid by the ruling party, the statement continues.
“Unfortunately, many foreigners, especially Westerners who don’t have time to make in-depth analysis, keep repeating among themselves the above race-related allegation and end up getting disturbed by simplistic and sensationalist reporting in the foreign press and literature on Cambodia,” the CNRP said.
Friday’s statement, the CNRP wrote, was meant to “set the record straight.”
It gives various examples of the word being used by high-ranking CPP officials, as well as the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan is also quoted as using the term in interviews. Mr. Siphan said Friday that he does not consider the word “yuon” racist or derogatory.
“It’s not necessarily [derogatory]. Like when you talk about black people, it always depends on the context and the tone,” the government spokesman said.
“But when the CNRP use it, it contains racism because of the context and the tone.”
Mr. Siphan said that human rights groups also have criticized the way the CNRP used the word “yuon.” He cited as an example Ou Virak, chairman of the board of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
In December, Mr. Virak wrote an open letter urging opposition leader Sam Rainsy to stop inciting people by using the word.
“Look at what was going on with Ou Virak, he criticized that [the use of the word yuon] and he is very biased against the government,” Mr. Siphan said, explaining that the CPP was not paying foreigners to spread allegations of racism of the CNRP.
Mr. Virak’s letter prompted heavy criticism, insults and even death threats on social media.