30 April 2007 By Kim Pov Sottan, Radio Free Asia Translated from Khmer by Socheata and Heng Soy of KI Media General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, claimed that for Khmer Kampuchea Krom, up to now, there is nothing to prove that they are Khmer citizens. Furthermore, they (Khmer Krom people) insist on registering their birthplace in a land that is no longer under Cambodia’s authority, therefore, it is difficult to provide them with any identity papers. “… Even an identification card, they wouldn’t issue it for me, therefore when I come [to Cambodia], they call me an illegal immigrant, and when I return back to Kampuchea Krom (South Vietnam), they (the Vietnamese) oppress me. Here the living condition is very difficult. I don’t know where to turn to…” This is the disappointment of a 30-year-old Khmer Krom man who fled from Preah Trapeang province (Vinh Binh in Vietnamese), Kampuchea Krom, to live in Banteay Dek commune, Kien Svay district, Kandal province, hoping to find a better life here, but to the contrary, he only faces discrimination. Thach Sokha added: “I am very disappointed because I am also Khmer, but they consider me as a foreigner instead. Everyday’s living is very difficult, I am facing oppression from the local people, they do not apply pressure per se, but they do not provide me with the full right as a Cambodian citizen. I am not arriving in Cambodia recently, I lived here almost 20 years already, I arrived since 1991-92.” Mrs. Thach Thy, also from Preah Trepeang province, said that the authority push her to join the [ruling] party, but she refused to join them, and since then her problems started: “… when we live on our own, they said that we don’t belong this or that party, they want us to join [a party], but we don’t join any party, we live by ourselves.” A 68-year-old man from Khleang province (Soc Trang in Vietnamese) said that he is accused by the authority of being Vietnamese and official papers (such as identification card) are not issued to him: “During the State of Kampuchea era (People’s Republic of Kampuchea under the Vietnamese occupation), the situation was very tight, but now, the situation is still difficult, they do not recognize me as being Khmer. I speak with an accent, they say that I am Vietnamese, but in reality, they issued ID cards for the Vietnamese, as for me, who is Khmer, they don’t issue any ID for me. If I want them to issue my ID, and I allow them to register my original birthplace as Cambodia, then they would issue the paperwork for me. But I refuse to register because my birthplace is in Kampuchea Krom.” In the Khsom village, Banteay Dek commune, Kien Svay district, at least 11 Khmer Krom families are living there. None of them have any identification papers, and this situation led to difficulties for them to find work, or for traveling, or for owning any property. Ang Chanrith, the executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom human rights defense association said that Khmer Krom people left their homelands to come to Cambodia because they are opposed to the living condition imposed by the Vietnamese authority. But, when they arrive in Cambodia, they face strong discrimination from the local authorities. Ang Chanrith said: “It is not as good as for other [foreign] nationalities who also arrived in Cambodia. They (Khmer Krom) must face (1) discrimination form the local authority and from the general population, and (2) regarding their living conditions, they have not received any attention or help to facilitate the practice of their jobs. For example, when they raise ducks, in the past, the authority would come and threaten them, extorting money from them, they curse them as being ‘Ah Yuon’ [a Vietnamese] so much so that their freedom is not as much respected and valued as for the general Khmer population.” According to the National Law, starting from Article 1 to Article 4, it is clearly stipulated that Cambodian people, wherever they live, must be recognized and must receive protection, as well as provided with sufficient freedom rights by the Cambodian authority. Since the land of Kampuchea Krom prior to 1949 belonged to Cambodia still, therefore, the people living there are also considered as Cambodian citizens also. However, based on the report of Khmer Krom association, at least 500 Khmer Krom people living in Kandal, Koh Kong, and Takeo provinces saw the Cambodian authority refusing to issue them national identity cards. General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, claimed that for Khmer Kampuchea Krom, up to now, there is nothing to prove that they are Khmer citizens. Furthermore, they (Khmer Krom people) insist on registering their birthplace in a land that is no longer under Cambodia’s authority, therefore, it is difficult to provide them with any identity papers. Khieu Sopheak said: “Even though they are of the same flesh and blood of our ancestors since time immemorial, even though they are our relatives, however, the colonial regime caused the division of our lands. According to our constitution, [Cambodia] is only considered as [a territory of] 181,035-square kilometer. It’s true that the government defends Cambodian living overseas, [the Constitution] stipulates that, but they are not born in Cambodia, they are born elsewhere. Furthermore, our state cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country, it is illegal…” Sok Sam Oeun, the director of the Cambodian legal defense league, commented that this is a complicated issue. Even though the law stipulates as such, the Ministry of Interior did not issue any official directives regarding Khmer Krom population, in order to facilitate the work by the lower level authorities. Sok Sam Oeun said: “We must protest to the Ministry of Interior, if the lower authority levels cannot make a decision, we must bring our complaints to the higher up level, and at the end bring the case to court. There is another mean though, it is for us inside Cambodia to demand from the Ministry of Interior and the government to issue a directive on its recognition of a Khmer citizen, regardless of whether they are from South Vietnam or any other countries, if such a person has no Cambodian ID, and they enter Cambodia by claiming that they are Khmer, what is required? Such clear directives are necessary for the lower level authorities to easily apply them.” Because the law stipulates that Khmer Krom people are also Cambodians, when the Khmer Krom people’s rights are being violated [by the Vietnamese], they do not receive any protection from international organizations. Recently, Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly, rejected the demands made by Khmer Krom people, because he considers the Khmer Krom issue [in Vietnam] as being an internal affair of South Vietnam. Khmer Krom people are very deceived by this rejection.