WASHINGTON DC —
Cambodians and Laotians in US gathered in front of the White House in Washington on Monday, claiming that Vietnamese policies in the region are hurting their respective countries.
One protester said Vietnam has “Crimea-like colonization” policies, while others said Vietnamese authorities are guilty of human rights abuses and that its policies were destabilizing the region.
Protesters also gathered in front of the Vietnamese Embassy.
The demonstration comes after a two-day Southeast Asia conference in Virginia over the weekend. It also comes amid an ongoing protest in Cambodia over a Vietnamese official’s remarks regarding Kampuchea Krom, the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam once held by Cambodia.
Outside the White House on Tuesday, Sau Nora Prom, a protest organizer, said the demonstration was being held this month to mark the Paris Peace Accords, which ended decades of civil war in Cambodia in 1991 and mandated Cambodian sovereignty, human rights and democracy.
“We want the US to help stop the communist government of Vietnam from staging Crimea-like colonization in Cambodia and Laos,” he said. “Vietnam has planted its people in our country and in Laos. Cambodia and Laos have the same problem. That’s why we are jointly protesting.”
About a third of the 200 protesters were from Laotians, organizers said.
Phouthone Souvannavong, a Laotian form Virginia, told VOA Khmer that Vietnamese influence in Laos has meant major resettlement of Vietnamese people there, the extraction of many natural resources, and a government that does not respect human rights.
“I want the US government to tell the Vietnamese communists to leave my country alone, because there is no human rights there,” he said.
Men Vannak, a Cambodian from Lowell, Massachusetts, said organizers had chosen to demonstrate on a Monday, when they might have less participants, but when Washington and the White House are at work. “We want them to see our protest,” he said.
Vietnamese Embassy officials declined to comment on the protest, which followed a two-day conference in Virginia to discuss issues faced by Cambodians, Hmong and Montagnards.
Sam Thavy, who helped organize the conference, said these groups are “victims of an influx of Vietnamese into our countries.”
More than 60 representatives from both the US and France attended the conference, to discuss Vietnamese resettlement into Cambodia and Laos and the treatment of ethnic minorities, such as the Khmer Krom, living in Vietnam.
“If we leave Vietnam to colonize and spread its hegemony in Indochina, it will pose a danger, not only to Cambodia and Laos, but neighboring countries of Cambodia who are afraid of communism,” Moeung Sonn, a Cambodian who now lives in France, said. “This colonization will not only affect Cambodian and Laotian cultures, but international security and the politics in Asean.”
Kok Sor, president of the Degar Foundation, which represents Montagnards, said the international community should not arm Vietnam.
“If the international community would like to help in that region, they cannot only strengthen Vietnam,” he said. “They have to strengthen Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand and many other people, but now they pay attention to only Vietnam. The other people, they don’t. That’s why Vietnam is now strong, and they want to take over Laos and Cambodia. They have to think about it.”
Members of the Laotian community said they have struggled for rights in the past, but with little success, and so have decided to join with other advocacy groups in the region.
“I would say it was not very effective and disappointing in the past, because one voice is not enough,” said Oudong Saysana, president of the Laotian Human Rights Council. “We need from two up to so many voices, so that means the Laotian and Cambodians who have the same issues, and I strongly encourage Hmongs, Cambodian brothers and sisters and Laotian brothers and sisters to work together for the same issues that we have right now.”