Resentment toward the Vietnamese boiled to the surface Wednesday as more than 2,000 monks, nuns, legislators and local people gathered near the Royal Palace to mourn the loss of Kampuchea Krom, which comprises a large portion of the Mekong Delta, to Vietnam 53 years ago.
Speaking next to photos of independence martyrs, Khmer Krom Association Chairman Thach Setha, who is also a Sam Rainsy Party senator, declared the territory transfer “an evil plot between France and the Vietnamese government that took place without the knowledge of the Khmer Krom.”
Since the land was given to the Vietnamese, Khmers have become an ethnic minority in their own land, said Sann Song, executive director of the Friends of Khmer Kampuchea Krom.
“Now Khmer people living in Phnom Penh discriminate against the Khmer Krom people” because they consider them to be Vietnamese, he claimed.
Touch Sy Heng, 49, said he was jailed in Vietnam for three years in the 1970s for fighting with the Khmer Krom resistance. Now he said he can’t return and visit his family for fear of arrest.
Kem Sokha, chairman of the Senate’s human rights committee, said the government would support efforts to preserve the rights of Khmer Krom in Vietnam.
“Khmer Krom have the right to demand the land back,” he said.
Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council, said he hoped Vietnam would return the land, which includes modern Ho Chi Minh City, when the Khmer Krom demanded it. He urged people to pray for the land’s return. At the end of the speeches, 1,949 monks from pagodas throughout Phnom Penh were offered food and money, in a reference to the year—1949—the territory was lost.
(Additional reporting by Richard Sine)