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Sihanouk’s Vietnam Visit Disappoints Khmer Krom

A US advocate for the Khmer minority in Vietnam said he was disappointed former king Norodom Sihanouk did not discuss alleged rights violations in a visit to Hanoi last week.

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom inhabit parts of the Mekong Delta ceded to Vietnam by the French in 1949. Members say they are restricted in the practice of their Buddhist faith, which differs from the majority of the Vietnamese, and suffer other rights abuses.

Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation in US, said issues such as reported border encroachments, the treatment of Khmer Krom, and the loss of “Lower Cambodia” to Vietnam were all issues that need addressed.

“That’s what [Sihanouk] should do, and if he doesn’t do it, it’s not only me who is disappointed, but millions of people in Kampuchea Krom who are really disappointed,” he said.

The former king visited Hanoi with his wife and the current king, his son, Norodom Sihamoni. Palace officials say the visit was of a personal nature and not political.

Sihanouk’s four-day visit did include meetings with Nong Duc Manh, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and President Nguyen Minh Triet, along with other senior officials.

For such a delegation to visit Vietnam and not discuss national affairs was regretful, Thach Ngoc Thach said.

Rather than the former monarch thanking Vietnam, Vietnam should thank Sihanouk for helping make North and South Vietnam one country, he said.

As the US war in Vietnam escalated, Sihanouk struggled to keep Cambodia neutral. He allowed US advisers in Phnom Penh and Viet Cong weapons to route through Cambodian ports. The policy ultimately failed, leading to US bombardment of Viet Cong sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia and destabilizing the country. After the Khmer Rouge took power, they were ousted by Vietnamese forces.

Thach Ngoc Thach said Cambodia’s relationship since has been one of unnecessary “everlasting gratitude,” while issues such as illegal immigration by Vietnamese in Cambodia go untouched.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, Sihanouk’s cabinet chief, said such reactions were confusing and skeptical and the views of a single individual.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the visit marked a new level in region diplomacy, but he acknowledged it could cause worry among some Cambodians, especially during reports of border encroachment.

The former king’s trip coincided with increased allegations by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party that current border demarcation was surrendering Cambodian land to Vietnam, a charge government border officials say is false.