As retired King Norodom Sihanouk flew out of Phnom Penh yesterday for his first visit to Vietnam in 15 years, a former political faction continued to press the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments for a co-management agreement over the former territory of French Cochinchina, which is now southern Vietnam.
Son Soubert, vice president of the former 1980s resistance movement the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, repeated statements made Sunday that he believed the two governments could work together to co-manage both the Mekong Delta area in southern Vietnam, known to Khmers as Kampuchea Krom, and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island, known to Khmers as Koh Tral.
In a statement released on Sunday under the banner of the KPNLF, which was signatory to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements but contested the UNTAC election in 1993 as the Buddhist liberal Democratic Party led by Son Sann, Mr Soubert’s late father, calls were made for the co-management of the territory to “put an end to traditional suspicions between the two neighbors.”
Mr Soubert’s statement compared a possible co-management system to the principality of Andorra in the French Pyrenees, which is under the joint sovereignty of France and Spain.
Mr Soubert, who like his father is a member of the Khmer Krom community, said yesterday that while the KPNLF no longer acted as a political party, it had a right to comment about bilateral issues between Cambodia and Vietnam because it was a signatory to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement.
“We used KPNLF for the statement because KPNLF is still accepted by the UN,” he said. “We want both governments to have good cooperation and friendship and we do not want to see violations between the two nations. To avoid the national discrimination with the Vietnamese about Koh Tral [and Kampuchea Krom], both governments have to review this case now,” Mr Soubert said.
There have been longstanding claims by members of the Khmer Krom that they are discriminated against in Vietnam in terms of being able to following traditional religious practices and education in the Khmer language, while the loss of the Kampuchea Krom territory to Vietnam is still a highly emotive issue for many Cambodians.
Le Minh Ngoc, spokesman at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that he could not comment on Mr Soubert’s statement.
“I could not comment as it is the governments’ work,” Mr Minh Ngoc said, adding that the retired King’s visit to Vietnam this week showed that cooperation and friendship between the two nations was strengthening.
Retired King Sihanouk said last week that his trip with Queen Mother Monineath and King Norodom Sihamoni to Vietnam would be a “strictly private” affair, as he no longer carries out diplomatic services for Cambodia.