Advocates for ethnic Khmers from Vietnam met with US State Department officials this week in an effort to improve human rights and religious freedoms there. The delegation included three Khmer monks who had spent about one year in jail each in Vietnam, in what they say is religious persecution.
Khmers from southern Vietnam, land often referred to in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, or “Lower Cambodia,” say Vietnamese authorities continue to suppress their rights, including land seizures and a lack of access to education. Kampuchea Krom, in the Mekong Delta region, was ceded to Vietnam by the French in 1949.
“We want to see the Vietnamese government recognize that Khmer Krom land belongs to Cambodia,” said Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the Khmer Kampucha Krom Federation, who met with State Department officials on Tuesday. “Vietnam has to apologize to the Cambodian people for the persecution of Khmer Krom people.”
The State Department meeting included officials that work with Vietnam, Cambodia and refugees, he said, and particularly focused on helping Khmer Krom find asylum once they flee Vietnam. The Cambodian government has said it will grant citizenship to any Khmer Krom, but that has not always happened, leading some to flee to Thailand in search of asylum.
Also attending the meeting were Tim Sakhorn, a former Khmer Krom monk who was defrocked by Cambodian Buddhists in 2007 and expelled to Vietnam, and monks Dinh Tol and Kim Moul. All three spent time in Vietnamese prisons that year but have since been granted asylum status. They were each re-ordained in the US last week.
“I came to the US this time to submit documents and be present as a live witness to US officials,” Tim Sakhorn told VOA Khmer after the meeting.
Vietnamese and State Department officials declined to comment on Tuesday’s meeting.