Worldwide members of the Khmer ethnic group from southern Vietnam will meet in Paris on Saturday to mark the loss of territory from Cambodia to Vietnam in the colonial period and push for greater freedoms under Vietnamese authorities.
Maggie Murphy, project coordinator for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and one of the organizers for the weekend conference, said that 60 years after Khmers lost the land, they are now living in poor conditions, with few rights.
“There is a lot of oppression,” she told VOA Khmer from her group’s office in the Hague. “There is a lack of ability to express one’s religious freedom, and the socio-economic situation of the Khmer Krom is not what it should be. It is far below that of the ethnic Vietnamese.”
Participants of Saturday’s conference will include French authorities, the secretary-general of Murphy’s organization and an Italian member of the European Parliament.
Kampuchea Krom was awarded by the French to Vietnam on June 4, 1949, when the countries were part of Indochina, a partitioning that nettles many Cambodians today and is a focal point for nationalistic rhetoric.
Millions of Khmer Krom now live without freedom of expression or religion, according to the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation.
Vietnamese authorities impose restrictions on all forms of protest. Recently, they arrested a Khmer monk for hostile acts against good relations between Cambodia and Vietnam.
“In the future, the main purpose of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation is to properly prepare legal work to demand more [work against] human rights violations by the Vietnamese authorities,” Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the federation, told VOA Khmer by phone. “Our purpose is to move toward in what we call a journey toward self determination.”