"The Communist Party of Vietnam and I appreciate the Khmer people living in Vietnam as the countries of Cambodia and Vietnam continue to improve their relationship," said Soeng Song San, a Khmer Krom of Vietnam's Central Communist Party



Officials explore Kampuchea Krom
Tuesday, 08 September 2009 15:02 Vong Sokheng

Cambodian leaders visit Khmer Krom pagodas, but residents say they
face government restrictions in practicing their culture.

Tra Vinh province, Vietnam
MINISTER of Information Khieu Kanharith led a delegation of government
officials on a visit this past weekend to Vietnam's Tra Vinh province,
home to large numbers of ethnic Khmer residents, to celebrate the
start of the Pchum Ben festival.

Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam, known collectively as Khmer Krom, have at
times reported persecution by the Vietnamese population. The visit of
the Cambodian delegation, joined by Vietnamese government officials,
was designed to showcase good relations between Cambodia, the Khmer
Krom and Vietnam, officials said.

"The Communist Party of Vietnam and I appreciate the Khmer people
[living in Vietnam] as the countries of Cambodia and Vietnam continue
to improve their relationship," said Soeng Song San, a Khmer Krom who
is deputy chairman of Vietnam's Central Communist Party in charge of
affairs in the west and south.

Khieu Kanharith echoed the remarks from Soeng Song San, noting that
King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen have always
encouraged good relations between Cambodia and Vietnam. As part of the
visit, Khieu Kanharith and the rest of the delegation visited four
pagodas patronised by Khmer Krom.

"We are happy to see that our people here are able to preserve their
Khmer identity. Cambodian officials will continue to visit in order to
link the culture of Khmer people here and Khmer people in Cambodia to
have a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood," he said.

Despite the dignitaries' warm words, alleged instances of Vietnamese
discrimination against the Khmer Krom have given rights groups cause
for concern in recent years.


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This trip will not be of much importance ... because it's an official
visit.

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In addition to being ethnically distinct from the Vietnamese, Khmer
Krom practice Theravada Buddhism, in contrast to the Mahayana
tradition that is more prevalent in Vietnam. According to a report
released in May of this year by the United States Commission on
International Religious
Freedom, Khmer Krom have faced Vietnamese government restrictions on
their religious festivals, with five Khmer Krom monks receiving prison
sentences for protesting those restrictions in 2007.

In July of this year, Khmer Krom monk and activist Tim Sakhorn flew to
Sweden, where he was granted political asylum after having been
arrested and jailed by Vietnamese authorities in 2007 on charges of
illegally crossing the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Although none were willing to speak on the record, Khmer Krom
residents of Tra Vinh province said they faced difficulty in starting
their own businesses, and that Khmer language study was discouraged
except within pagodas.

Ang Chanrith, the executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human
Rights Organisation, said that though he appreciated the effort of
Khieu Kanharith and others to visit the Khmer Krom, he doubted that
the trip would do much to improve their situation, as the community
struggles with land disputes and discrimination.

"This trip will not be of much importance for Khmer Krom people there
because it's an official visit to Kampuchea Krom led by Vietnamese
authorities," he said. "The Vietnamese will take [Khieu Kanharith]
only to places where there are no disputes between Khmer Krom and
Vietnamese."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O'TOOLE IN PHNOM PENH
.



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