PHNOM PENH —
Thousands of demonstrators, including students and monks, gathered in front of the Vietnamese Embassy on Monday, calling again for an apology for alleged remarks made about Vietnam’s ownership of the Mekong Delta.
Many Cambodians remain angered that the area, called Kampuchea Krom, or Lower Cambodia, in Khmer, was partitioned to Vietnam by the French in 1949.
The region, called Cochinchina by the French, was ruled by various Vietnamese factions since the mid-1600s, before it was colonized by the French in 1862. The region was merged into Southern Vietnam by the Geneva Accords in 1954.
Many Khmer speakers still live in the region, and they claim they have been persecuted by the current Vietnamese government.
Protesters were angered after the Vietnamese Embassy’s first counselor, Tran Van Thong, said in a radio interview in June that the region had belonged to Vietnam “for a very long time” before the French takeover.
The comments hit a nationalistic nerve. Similar rumors in 2003—about Thailand and Angkor Wat—sparked citywide riots and the sacking of the Thai Embassy.
The demonstrators have successfully brought petitions to the French, US, British, EU, Russia and Chinese embassies, but no representative from the Vietnamese Embassy was present Monday.
“We come here not to express our racism, hatred and opposition to Vietnamese government, but over what the Vietnamese spokesman and government has said,” Tach Setha, head of Khmer Krom Community, told the crowd. “They have to recognize Cambodian history.”
Hundreds of riot police were deployed for the demonstration, but no clashes were reported. Nay Vongda, an observer for the rights group Adhoc, praised the restraint from both sides.
Trang Van Thong could not be reached for comment Monday. Demonstrators said they would return to the embassy Tuesday.
City spokesman Long Dimanche said authorities will meet with protest organizers in an effort to avoid further demonstrations.
“We will discuss to find a solution,” he said. “We will find a way to send a petition to the Vietnamese government. If they continue the protest, it will affect the freedoms of other people.”