Vietnam Calls For Action on Flag Burning

Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry put out a strong statement Wednesday condemning the burning of a Vietnamese flag in front of its Phnom Penh embassy the day prior and urging Cambodian authorities to take all necessary steps to make sure it does not happen again.

A group of protesters set fire to a Vietnamese flag in front of the embassy on Tuesday amid larger demonstrations in Phnom Penh against controversial remarks the embassy’s first secretary made on the radio in June and to demand an apology or retraction.

In a radio interview, Tran Van Thong, also the embassy’s spokesman, rejected the claims of some Cambodians that the provinces of Kampuchea Krom, in present-day southern Vietnam and home to many ethnic Khmer, belonged to Cambodia before colonial France ceded it to Vietnam in 1949.

In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Le Hai Binh, said the protest was illegal and called on the Cambodian government to prevent a repeat of the flag burning, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“Vietnam strongly protests the fact that Khmer Kampuchea Krom activists held an illegal protest and set a Vietnamese flag on fire in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh,” the report quotes the statement as saying.

“These unruly activities are deliberate to seriously insult feelings of Vietnamese people, inappropriate with the good traditional neighboring friendship between Vietnam and Cambodia,” it goes on. “Vietnam urges Cambodia to strictly handle these activities following law and have effective measures to prevent the similar incident from happening again.”

A man answering Mr. Thong’s phone Thursday declined to speak with a reporter and other officials at the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached for comment.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unaware of the statement from Vietnam and referred all questions to Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but officials there could not be reached.

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, which have been deployed during the latest round of nationalist demonstrations in defense of Cambodia’s historical claim to Kampuchea Krom, said he was aware of the statement from Vietnam and that his forces would do whatever was ordered of them in response.

“When there is an order from the Ministry of Interior, [Phnom Penh] City Hall or the government, we will take action,” he said. “We will follow any order from them and we will carry out our duties under the law.”

Spokesmen for the Interior Ministry and National Police could not be reached. City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said any response to Vietnam’s request was up to the national government.

At the previous three-day demonstration—in July—as the protesters demanded that a representative of the Vietnamese Embassy accept a petition, it was Mr. Dimanche who took the document on the embassy’s behalf.

As for those who set the Vietnamese flag alight on Tuesday, Mr. Dimanche said authorities had yet to decide what measures to take.

Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, which helped organize the recent demonstrations, has disavowed any connection with those who burned the flag Tuesday.

Even so, he said Thursday that Hanoi’s request to Phnom Penh constituted undue interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs.

“It shows that the yuon interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs, and it shows it is the boss of our country and does not respect others’ territory,” he said, using a term for Vietnamese considered derogatory by many. “If the government and authorities follow the yuon’s orders, it shows that our government is the puppet of the yuon.”

Mr. Setha said the request would not scare his group out of staging more protests soon.

“We are not afraid that the authorities will crack down,” he said. “If they crack down, it will show that they crack down on their own people.”

Thach Ha Sam Ang, acting chief monk at the Wat Samakki Raingsey pagoda and another leader of the recent demonstrations, said that if security forces did take violent action against them in the future, it would only swell their ranks.

“If the government and authorities crack down on the protesters, more people will join us because they will not tolerate the yuon after they have insulted and looked down on us,” he said.

Opposition CNRP lawmaker Oum Sam An, who has joined the demonstrations, said he planned to summon Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong to the National Assembly to grill him on the government’s silence on the Vietnamese Embassy’s provocative remarks.

He said he would make the request as soon as the CNRP and ruling CPP work out the details of a deal they recently struck to get the opposition to take its Assembly seats after a yearlong boycott over the disputed results of last year’s national election.

“I will send a letter asking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the president of the National Assembly, to invite Mr. Hor Namhong to explain why there was no response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning Vietnam’s claim that Kampuchea Krom belonged to Vietnam a long time ago and to ask him to call on Vietnam and ask why it has not accepted the people’s petition,” he said.

Mr. Setha said he would organize more demonstrations if the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments did not settle the dispute over the Vietnamese Embassy spokesman’s remarks in the next one or two weeks.

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