SRP-Linked Group Denied Outdoor Ceremony

Phnom Penh Municipality has denied an SRP-affiliated group permission to use a city park for its annual ceremony marking the loss of Kampuchea Krom—lower Cam­bo­d­ia—to Vietnam, saying the gathering must instead be held indoors.

However, a rival Khmer Krom group linked to the ruling CPP, which had been vying for permission to use the same park, said Tuesday it had received permission to hold its ceremony at the government’s Chaktomuk Conference Hall free of charge.

June 4 marks the 59th anniversary of a French colonial-era law officially ceding the Mekong delta re­gion of Vietnam, then known as Cochin China, to Vietnamese control. Once Khmer territory, the area is still home to a sizeable ethnic Khmer population.

In a May 20 letter received Tues­day, Municipal Governor Kep Chuk­tema informed Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kam­puchea Krom Community, that the annual outdoor ceremony cannot be held at the park in front of Daun Penh district’s Wat Botum pagoda.

“City Hall is permitting the ceremony to be held inside your offices,” the letter said. The letter did not explain the reason for the change.

Kep Chuktema could not be reached Tuesday. However, Thach Setha, who is a member of the SRP’s board of directors, said he would ask municipal authorities to reconsider the decision.

“I don’t understand. We have celebrated the ceremony every year. City Hall did not talk with us, and they did not give us any reason,” he said.

“We cannot hold it in the office. It is a national ceremony. There are to be thousands of participants,” Thach Setha said, adding that the decision was an insult to the representative of King Norodom Siha­moni, who is scheduled to attend the ceremony.

The King’s representative, Prin­cess Sisowath Pongneary Mony­pong, is also scheduled to attend the ceremony to be held by the CPP-affiliated Khmer Kampuchea Krom Coordination Committee at Chak­tomuk Conference Hall, according to letters received Tuesday.

KKKCC Executive Director Kim Van Chheng said Tuesday his organization had switched from seeking permission to congregate at Wat Botum to Chaktomuk hall because his group did not want to disturb the tranquility of the public park.

“City Hall built a beautiful park in front of Wat Botum. It would affect the beauty of the park if we celebrate a ceremony over there,” Kim Van Chheng said.

Culture Minister Veng Sereyvuth has allowed the use of the hall free of charge, he said. Veng Sereyvuth could not be reached.

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Hu­man Rights Organization, said he would join Thach Setha’s ceremony as he felt the KKKC better represented Khmer Krom interests.

“City Hall is very biased toward the CPP-affiliated Khmer Krom group,” he added.

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