Members of the Khmer minority in Vietnam recently met with State Department officials and are now looking for ways to unite with other minorities like the Hmong and Montagnards to protect themselves from persecution, a leading advocate says.
Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, told VOA Khmer the main goals of these minorities are the same.
Khmer groups in Vietnam face persecution for their religion and separate culture, activists say, including land seizures and arbitrary arrest.
“Khmer Krom, Montagnards, and Hmong face similar social and economic issues,” a US State Department official said. “We continue to encourage Vietnam to implement policy that will encourage greater economic and social opportunities for all ethnic minorities.”
The State Deparment “continues to press Vietnam to improve its human rights practices, including in minority regions,” the official said.
“The government of Vietnam has always accused us of being a terrorist group, a group to break up the country,” Thach Ngoc Thach said.
Kok Ksor, president of the Montagnard Foundation, in South Carolina, told VOA Khmer his group too had met with State officials to outline continued rights concerns in Vietnam.
“In our church, they placed a statue of Ho Chi Minh, to worship him before we worship God,” he said. “We have to put the [communist] party above all. But that is not right according to our beliefs in Jesus Christ.”
Large congregational worship is also banned, he said. “If we do, they will arrest us and send us to prison to torture our people.”
Vietnamese officials have in the past denied accusations of human rights abuses and persecution.
Kok Ksor said that as a member of the United Nations, Vietnam should better respect people’s rights.
Joshua Cooper, a senior adviser to the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, said indigenous groups must now come together to push for more rights, especially because Asean is creating its own rights doctrine.
“So that is bringing people together in the Lower Mekong Initiative, to make sure human rights is at the forefront of it,” he said.