Protesters Demand Expulsion of Vietnamese

More than 100 students, monks and other protesters marched from Wat Chak Angre Leu through the heart of Phnom Penh Monday, demanding that the government remove Vietna­mese people living at the pagoda.

Sporting strips of blue cloth tied around their heads and arms, students carried signs with such slogans as “The government must reform the immigration law!’’ and “Do not allow anarchy among residents in the pagoda!’’

Although demonstrations against Vietnamese encroachment have become common in recent months, Monday’s protest represented one of the most scathing attacks against a specific group of Vietnamese since the post-election period of 1998. It also was noteworthy for the number of monks who participated.

The students, members of the Students Movement for Demo­cracy, are supporting the wat’s monks, who complain that the Vietna­mese are disruptive and fight with monks and pagoda boys.

The Vietnamese say they must fight to protect themselves and that they are willing to leave as soon as they have a place to go.

Officials of the Overseas Viet­namese Association say they have located suitable land in Prek Pra commune, Meanchey district, but need to raise money to build housing. They hope other NGOs will help them, they said.

The students said they want action now.

“Today, we demand that the government expel the Vietna­mese who are illegally living in the pagoda,’’ said Pang Sok­hoeun, 26, exhorting his fellow demonstrators with a bullhorn.

A crowd of about 100 passersby stopped to watch as the demonstration got under way early Monday at the wat, on the outskirts of the city south of the Monivong bridge.

About a dozen police officers kept traffic moving along Noro­dom Boulevard as student leaders made speeches from a sound truck parked in the wat’s main entrance.

The demonstrators marched from the wat, to the city hall, where they met with several officials but not Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, who was otherwise occupied.

Chea Sophara said in a telephone interview later that he expects the Vietnamese will have moved elsewhere within 30 days.

“We do not know where they are going to live. We do not care where they go, we just want them to leave,’’ he said.

Kea Savoeun, commune chief of Chak Angre Leu, said the Vietnamese told him they would leave within a month.

He said the Overseas Vietna­mese Association has already raised $70,000 of the money needed from the families living on the compound, and that 13 families have already moved out.

“I think we will be successful,’’ he said.

The Vietnamese presence at the temple goes back to the early 1980s, when they were allowed to move onto the deserted temple grounds by Vietnamese forces occupying the mostly empty city.

Over the years the settlement has grown to about 50 houses, sheltering more than 100 families. “There are 118 families living there,’’ said Kea Savoeun, “and 13 families have already left.’’

Each side in the dispute has accused the other of instigating violence, and both parties have gone to court to resolve matters.

Keo Bun, the chief monk at Wat Chak Angre Leu, said after meeting with municipal officials that he will be happy if the problem is resolved within a month.

But if it doesn’t happen, he said, he will have no choice but to set himself afire, as he has threatened. “I will take my stance to burn myself as I committed,’’ he said. “I hope the municipal hall of Phnom Penh will solve this problem.’’



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