Phnom Penh City Hall Warns of Arrests Over Vietnam Protest

City Hall on Friday threatened up to 15 years in prison for students planning a protest in front of the Vietnamese Embassy over comments made in June by an embassy official that the Kampuchea Krom region belonged to Vietnam long before it officially became part of the country in 1949.

The Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students plan to march to the Vietnamese Embassy on July 21 and hand over a petition calling for it to recognize that the land as historically belonged to Cambodia, retracting the statement made by Vietnamese Embassy First Counselor Tran Van Thong.

“I already issued a statement forbidding them from marching on the 21st,” said deputy Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng.

“When we forbid people from doing something and it affects the public, then we will complain and take it to court, so it must be punished. If it takes place in a public place like Freedom Park and there is violence, they must be punished by spending 10 to 15 years in prison,” he said.

Mao Pises, president of the student group, estimated that 1,000 supporters would join him in submitting petitions to the Vietnamese, French, U.S., E.U., Russian and Chinese embassies. “In a meeting, City Hall warned us that if we march, we will get arrested,” he said.

“We will do it because we want our Kampuchea Krom land to not be lost to history for a long time, so we need Cambodians to understand,” he said.

“If we don’t make Vietnam say that Kampuchea Krom was Cambodian land, in the future, our history will not be real. We need other embassies to help resolve this problem.”

Kampuchea Krom, or lower Cambodia, was a colony under French rule between 1862 and 1949, when it was officially handed over to Vietnam. On July 8, the first protest against the Vietnamese diplomat’s remarks was violently dispersed by helmeted Chamkar Mon district security guards.

In a statement released on Friday, the Minority Rights Organization called for peace if the protest goes ahead.

“State authorities should ensure the rule of law and guarantee the right to freedom of assembly, expression and association. Equally, the protesters should adhere to the principle of non-violence to pursue their goals,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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