Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Khmer Krom Test the Waters for Demonstration

Hundreds of ethnic Khmer Krom monks and protesters gather in Freedom Park on Monday prior to marching through Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
The Cambodia Daily - August 12, 2014

More than 1,000 ethnic Khmer Krom monks and nationalist protesters Monday tested City Hall’s tolerance for public assembly and demonstration, gathering in Freedom Park for the first time since it was reopened last week and proceeding to march through the city to demand an apology from the Vietnamese Embassy.

The protesters, who are demanding the retraction of a Vietnamese diplomat’s comment in June that South Vietnam—or Kampuchea Krom—was controlled by Vietnam prior to officially being handed over by France in 1949, were told by City Hall that only 10 people could march through the city.

However, more than 1,000 protesters marched out of Freedom Park and delivered petitions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassies of Burma and Laos before heading toward the Vietnamese Embassy, which was fortified by riot police and heavy steel barricades.

As the demonstrators readied for the march in the morning, truckloads of security guards, municipal riot police and military police circled. The protesters were allowed to march out of the park and around the city unhindered.

Upon arriving at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the protesters began to sing nationalist songs as one man played guitar through a public address system, secretary of state Long Visalo met the demonstrators and accepted the petition.

Mr. Visalo told Thach Setha, executive director of the KKKC, that he had already forwarded the issue to the Vietnamese Embassy, and that it was out of his hands.

“Answering or not answering, it is their right,” Mr. Visalo said. “You have the right to ask a question, and they have the right to decide if they want to answer you.”

After breaking for lunch, the group then handed petitions to the Burmese and Lao embassies, before arriving at the heavily secured Vietnamese Embassy, where hundreds of additional supporters had gathered.

The guitarist played on and Mr. Setha and others delivered messages through loudspeakers.

“We will request the Cambodian government to temporarily cut the relationship with Vietnam…until it respects Khmer territory and Khmer people,” Mr. Setha said.

“We will call for people nationwide to boycott Vietnamese products,” he said. “If the Vietnamese Embassy does not apologize, the protest will carry on.”

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