Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Repost: Vietnamese In Cambodia Unnerved By Upheaval

The New York Times
Published: August 03, 1997
When fighting broke out during last month's coup, some of the first people to seize their belongings and flee Phnom Penh were ethnic Vietnamese. They knew what might happen to them if the capital dissolved into chaos.

Ancient rulers and ancient enemies of Cambodia, the Vietnamese have often in recent decades found themselves the scapegoats for the country's troubles, and sometimes the targets of massacres.

As many as 500,000 ethnic Vietnamese now live in this nation of 10 million people, mostly working in low-level jobs.

In this fishing village 35 miles north of the capital, Vietnamese residents retreated onto their boats when the fighting started, ready to head for the border of Vietnam as they have in the past.

''It is quiet now but we are still afraid,'' said Ho Van Xai, a fisherman whose 25-year-old son bears the scars on his face of bullet wounds suffered during an attack that left 15 people dead here four years ago.

The massacre of Vietnamese in Taches was one of several in recent years by the Khmer Rouge, for whom hatred of Vietnam is a basic principle. Even now, the Khmer Rouge rally their guerrillas by telling them they are fighting to liberate the country from the Vietnamese.
The Khmer Rouge continue to press this line in radio broadcasts even as they assert that they have rejected the politics of their founder, Pol Pot. ''It is Vietnam's historical plot to swallow up Cambodia and annihilate Cambodians,'' said a recent broadcast.

The theme finds a resonance among many Cambodians.

''Pol Pot did many bad things, but he saved Cambodia,'' said a gift-shop owner, who like many Cambodians these days would speak about politics only on condition of anonymity. ''If it were not for Pol Pot, the Vietnamese would have taken over and Cambodia would be gone.''

Some younger Cambodians go so far as to say that the Khmer Rouge themselves must have acted under the Vietnam's sway when they caused the deaths of more than a million people during their years in power, from 1975 to 1979.

But when the Khmer Rouge play on anti-Vienamese notions in their broadcasts, they have a particular target in mind: Cambodia's de facto leader, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was first put in power by Hanoi after a Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

For the last two months, their broadcasts have rarely failed to take a swipe at Mr. Hun Sen as a traitorous ''Vietnamese puppet.''

Though much weakened, the Khmer Rouge still appears to be angling for a coalition with the royalist forces of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was ousted this month as First Prime Minister in a coup by Mr. Hun Sen.

Prince Ranariddh himself had tried to exploit anti-Vietnamese sentiment before the coup. Earlier this year, the Prince began to grumble about Vietnamese border violations and threatened force, much as the Khmer Rouge had done in the late 1970's.

The nation's borders with Vietnam on the east and Thailand on the west have expanded and contracted over the centuries, and the antipathy between Cambodia and Vietnam has remained particularly strong.

Although it was Vietnam that liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, the decade-long Vietnamese occupation that followed convinced many Cambodians of Hanoi's continuing designs on their nation.

This difficult history has put ethnic Vietnamese like the fishermen here in Taches in a limbo of near-statelessness, born and raised in Cambodia but ready to board their boats and flee at any moment.
Several people here said they would already have left for Vietnam if they had some place there to settle.

Asked where his home was in Vietnam, a 56-year-old villager, Ngo Van Xeng, shouted: ''I don't know! We were all born here. Our home is here. My father and my mother -- their fathers and their mothers -- we are all from Cambodia!''

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