Demonstrators Threaten to Burn Vietnamese Embassy

Protesters still angered by comments made by the Vietnamese Embassy’s former spokesman four months ago resumed their demonstrations over the weekend to demand an apology, burning Vietnamese flags and threatening to set fire to the embassy itself.

During a radio interview in June, then-embassy spokesman and first secretary Tran Van Thong rejected the claims of some Cambodians that Kampuchea Krom, part of present-day southern Vietnam and home to many ethnic Khmer, belonged to Cambodia before colonial France ceded it to Vietnam in 1949.

Protesters burn a Vietnamese flag, along with a number of paper replicas of the flag, outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Protesters burn a Vietnamese flag, along with a number of paper replicas of the flag, outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Its loss is a sore point among Cambodians, many of whom harbor a historic animosity toward their eastern neighbor, and the spokesman’s comments in June sparked flag-burning protests in front of the Vietnamese Embassy the following month.

Still waiting for an apology, more than 100 protesters returned to the embassy on Saturday and Sunday to burn more flags.

Seung Hai, an activist monk and one of the most outspoken members of the group, said they burned nine large flags over the course of the two-day protest, and hundreds of smaller ones. Police blocked access to the embassy with metal barricades placed at either end of the building, located on Monivong Boulevard, but made no attempt to intervene.

“If you want to end the problem, just come out and tell the truth about Khmer history and apologize to the Khmer people,” Seung Hai shouted in front of the embassy on Saturday.

“We are burning the flags to show that the yuon cannot do whatever they want,” he added, using a term for the Vietnamese that can be derogatory.

Returning Sunday, the monk threatened to take the protest a dangerous step further if Vietnam did not apologize by Monday.

“If the yuon do not come out, we will break into the yuon embassy and burn the embassy,” he said.

Others in the crowd echoed the threat.

Thach Setha, who heads the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, which has played a major role in organizing the protests, said the group would also start a boycott of Vietnamese goods Monday, deploying its members to markets around the city to urge customers not to buy anything made across the border.

“It is time for us to stand up together to show the yuon that we are united and that we will protect our nation and territory,” he said.

Not everyone in the crowd was so militant, though. A few protesters urged their peers to refrain from burning the flags—to no avail.

“We do not support those who burn the flag,” one young man told the crowd. “What’s the point of using violence? Violence is the solution of the animals. We have to use our intelligence to solve the problem.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche declined to comment on the protests, referring questions to the Vietnamese Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Spokesmen could not be reached for either.

After protesters burned a Vietnamese flag in front of the embassy in August, Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement denouncing the act and urging the Cambodian government to take legal action against the perpetrators.

The government has not pursued the case, however, and has said nothing in public to dissuade further protests.

The Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry announced last month that Mr. Van Thong would be replaced as Vietnamese Embassy spokesman.

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