The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh has denounced Sunday’s desecration of a Cambodia-Vietnam friendship monument by opposition protesters.
“The embassy of the Social Republic of Vietnam strongly condemns the base and shameful actions of these instigators who try to destroy the monument—a cultural work of historical value and a symbol of the friendship and solidarity between the peoples of Cambodia and Vietnam,” the embassy said Sunday in a letter to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“This action once again exposes the extreme reactionary nature…of the instigators of the demonstration,” the letter said.
Opposition leaders such as Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy have used anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in past speeches, appealing to a historic racist hostility and a persistent resentment of Vietnamese immigrants.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith held the opposition leaders responsible for the desecration and compared Sam Rainsy to the xenophobic Australian politician Pauline Hanson.
“Two people were beaten since the protest began because they were mistaken for Vietnamese,” Khieu Kanharith said. “It’s bad policy, a bad move for Sam Rainsy to get the support of the people by presenting himself as a racist. We have another Pauline Hanson in Cambodia.”
A spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party said he knew of no beatings of Vietnamese, and that the party would condemn such acts.
Khieu Kanharith also said there would be legal repercussions for the vandalism: “The Phnom Penh Municipality will take legal action against the leader of the demonstration. They have to pay for the damage.”
Sam Rainsy, however, said the opposition bears no responsibility.
“I am not prepared to pay anything because I cannot be held responsible for this,” he said, blaming the incident on uncontrolled elements. “If I said to do that, I would bear responsibility, but I did not.”
He suggested that the municipality could take up a collection at the sit-in, much as his party collected money for food and water for the protesters.
Sam Rainsy said he condemned the vandalism and himself went to the monument to break up a second attempt by an unruly mob to deface it.
“They were collecting money to buy petrol and chains to pull down the monument and burn it. I took the money to buy rice and water for the protesters instead. I explained to them that as democrats, we should abide by the law and use only peaceful means.” But one human rights worker who has been monitoring the issue said the opposition bears some responsibility for fanning the flames: “What they succeeded in doing with the anti-Vietnamese statements is created a mood…that allowed this thing to happen.”
(Additional reporting by Deutsche Presse-Agentur)