02 May 2007 By Kim Pov Sottan Radio Free Asia Translated from Khmer by Socheata and Heng Soy of KI Media “…If Khmer people don’t have traditions left over for them by older Khmer people, we will not remain as Khmer, we will not be able to worship Buddhism, we will be annihilated and assimilated as Vietnamese…” There are the words of Monk Ly Ran, a forty-something monk from Kampuchea Krom (South Vietnam) who was the former abbot of the Teuk Pray pagoda, Andoung Teuk district, Khleang province (Soc Trang in Vietnamese). Monk Ly Ran recently arrived in Cambodia after fleeing Kampuchea Krom because of his fear of religious persecution from the part of the Vietnamese authority. Monk Ly Ran spoke with an obvious hopelessness on the action taken by the Vietnamese authority – now ruling the territory of Kampuchea Krom, the current South Vietnam – to severely repress the Buddhism faith practiced by Khmer Krom people. Even for the celebration of religious ceremonies, [the Vietnamese authority forced Khmer Krom people] to shorten them, in contradiction to the normal Buddhist practice. Monk Ly Ran added: “In particular, for the celebration of the Cambodian New Year, they [the Vietnamese authorities] do not allow us to extend the celebration beyond more than 3 days. They do not allow us to enjoy the occasion according to our tradition where such celebration lasts up to one week. For the Kathen festival celebration, according to Buddhist custom, this festival season lasts one month, but the Vietnamese authorities impose and order Khmer Krom leaders to hold the Kathen on one day only, and the festival is taking place in Khleang province only. Secondly, it is our Buddhist Khmer tradition that during the Pchum Ben season [most holy celebration for all Khmer people to honor the dead], we usually go to the pagoda, and celebrate the Kan Ben ceremony for up to 15 days, now the Vietnamese authority forces Khmer Krom leaders, in particular the provincial authority forces Khmer Krom monks and Khmer Krom Buddhists to celebrate this occasion for 3 days only.” Monk Chao Sok from An Giang province (Vietnam) who was threatened with arrest by the Vietnamese authority, added that Khmer Krom people must become a monk in order to be able to pursue higher education, and even if they become monks, their studies are not always conducted in Khmer language. “The Vietnamese put a lot of pressure on Khmer Krom. When I was studying at the higher education Buddhist school, the teaching of our Khmer language is minimal, but for the teaching in their language (Vietnamese), there’s a lot. We were taught about their history, but when it comes to Khmer history, each week, we are taught only 2 to 3 hours per week. If we don’t become a monk, we cannot study (have higher education). I do not want to come here [to study further in Cambodia], but I want to develop Kampuchea Krom so that Khmer Krom people know Khmer literature, because I saw a lot of repression exerted by the Vietnamese authority.” Monk Yoeung Sin, the director of the Khmer Krom Monks and one of the teacher himself, said that the Vietnamese authority distributes a 2-kong (2-are) rice field for each monk and turns them into farming, raising animals, not dressing up properly, leaving their hair long (as opposed to shaved head), and working just like any laymen. Monk Yoeung Sin said that this action is taken as a mean to diminish the influence of Khmer Krom Buddhist monks who are considered as the root, the upholders of the source of culture, literature, and tradition for Khmer Krom people. “They try to gradually remove the influence of religious freedom. Just as I told you earlier, for example they (Vietnamese) force the monks to work in the rice field, and prevent them from going out to beg for their daily alms. So the question is: what is the meaning of becoming a monk? All this led to protests and demonstrations. When we demonstrate, they say that we betray their [communist] party and their country, the monks then become scared and they flee.” Monk Yoeung Sin added also: “Furthermore, for Khmer Kampuchea Krom, the pagodas are their roots, their religious foundations, the source of their civilization. If Khmer Krom people subsist up to now, it is because of Khmer Krom Buddhist leadership. For example, right now, Khmer Krom monks are allowed to attend the higher education Pali [Buddhism] school, but the Vietnamese authority orders them to learn about the history and patriotism of [communist] Ho Chi Minh, of the Vietnamese revolutionary army. When it comes to learn about Pali, [Khmer] history, Buddhism history, there is not much, only about 6 to 7 hours per week at most. Therefore, Khmer Krom people are not pleased with this situation, and a large number of them fled.” The intensified oppression in Khleang province on monks, the majority of whom are students at the higher education Pali school, led to demonstrations against the Vietnamese authority to demand for religious freedom. Demonstrations were held one after another since the beginning of the 2007, and 18 monks were defrocked by the Vietnamese, whereas 3 other monks were jailed and have not been released yet as of now. A source in the Khmer Krom Monks Association indicated that 13 Khmer Krom monks recently fled Kampuchea Krom after the Vietnamese authority issued orders for their arrest. The 13 have recently arrived in Cambodia. [Khmer Krom monks] protests were also held in Cambodia, but their demands were rejected by the Cambodian government leaders who claimed that the problems faced by Khmer Krom monks are merely Vietnamese internal affair. The director of the Pali school in South Vietnam (Kampuchea Krom) rejected [all claims leveled by Khmer Krom monks] when interviewed on RFA. Ny Chariya, an Adhoc human rights group official, commented that if all the complaints made by Khmer Krom monks are true, Vietnam is severely violating the religious freedom of Khmer Krom people. “In the universal declaration of human rights, it is stipulated that discriminations, in particular discriminations due to race or religion is strictly prohibited.” Monk Yoeung Sin said currently, 700 Khmer Krom monks have fled their native lands to come to Cambodia. He also said that when they arrive in Cambodia, they still face discriminations: some pagodas do not allow them to stay, at some other pagodas, they are forced to change their [Khmer Krom] names before they are issued with identification paper. At other locations, the Buddhist laymen would avoid them during religious festivals and consider them as Vietnamese monks rather than Khmer Krom monks. These problems are the many obstacles forcing Khmer Krom monks to leave their religious lives completely. Nevertheless, for those who remain, in spite of the number of problems they are facing with, they tirelessly continue to press for their demands.