The Vietnamese government said the forced removal of hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese villagers in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district is of great concern and could affect relations between Cambodia and Vietnam.
“This affects the present relationship of friendship and good cooperation between the two countries,” the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a letter in late November to the Cambodian Embassy in Hanoi. “This might lead outside forces to take this opportunity to twist the relationship between the two countries.”
The Vietnamese government asked Cambodian authorities to ensure the safety and security of the villagers who were removed, and to target all foreigners in Cambodia, not just Vietnamese.
In response, the Cambodian Embassy in Hanoi informed the Vietnamese government that as a matter of sovereignty, the government has the right to remove the villagers, according to a letter by Chheang Samkol, acting Ambassador to Vietnam.
“Cambodia does not hate the Vietnamese immigrants but considers them to be brothers,” Chheang Samkol wrote. “Those who were born in Cambodia are considered Cambodian, but in some cases newcomers do not have legal documents.”
More than 350 villagers were kicked out in November from the Monivong Bridge area. Phnom Penh authorities said the villagers were illegal immigrants and polluting the environment.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara backed down from his earlier statements, conceding Wednesday that some of the villagers were legal immigrants. But he said they are still polluting the Bassac River and need to be removed. “I think it’s no problem because we are just doing this to take care of the environment,” Chea Sophara said.
Last week, 1,000 Vietnamese families sent petitions to key government officials asking for an alternative location to live. Human rights groups criticized the removal, partly because residency documents weren’t checked before the evictions.
General Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, said security is being provided to the removed villagers, who are now in Kandal province near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. He said the government didn’t want another Khmer Rouge massacre of the Vietnamese, referring to murders of more than 150 Vietnamese since 1993.
He said because Vietnamese authorities have refused to let the villagers into Vietnam, some of them have offered to sell their boats to the locals so they can return to Phnom Penh.
“I think the Vietnamese authority understands the difficult position of the Cambodian government,” Khieu Sopheak said. “We don’t have any intention to spoil our good cooperation.”