Khmer Krom Protesters Burn Vietnamese Flag

Monks and nationalist protesters burned a Vietnamese flag in front of the Vietnamese Embassy on Tuesday as the embassy continued to ignore calls to apologize for comments made by a diplomat in July.

About 600 protesters gathered at the embassy once again to press for a retraction of spokesman Tran Van Thong’s comments that the Kampuchea Krom provinces in present-day Southern Vietnam were under Vietnamese control long before colonial France officially ceded them in 1949.

Monks and protesters burn a Vietnamese flag Tuesday in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh during a protest against controversial claims by a Vietnamese diplomat over the history of Kampuchea Krom in this photo circulated on Facebook.
Monks and protesters burn a Vietnamese flag Tuesday in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh during a protest against controversial claims by a Vietnamese diplomat over the history of Kampuchea Krom in this photo circulated on Facebook.

The demonstration proceeded peacefully until about 2:30 p.m., when the flag was brought forward and Seung Hai, a monk who has been a prominent figure at the two-day protest, took the lead.

As the flag was lit for a brief moment, two protesters—a monk and a layman—stepped forward and urged the protesters to remain true to their pledge of nonviolence. But Seung Hai continued to agitate.

“How long can we remain nonviolent?” he replied to calls to remain calm. “This is Vietnam’s problem.”

After a few minutes of debate, the flag was finally torched, then stomped and spat on by monks and laymen alike.

Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community and the protest’s figurehead, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that Mr. Setha, during a meeting with the municipality Tuesday, disavowed any association with the flag-burners.

“He said the people in front of the embassy do not belong to his group,” Mr. Dimanche said of Mr. Setha, a member of the opposition CNRP’s standing committee.

Mr. Dimanche said those who burned the flag would be punished.

“It is a group of anarchists…we have not decided how to punish them yet but we will wait and see.”

At the scene, Chum Huot, a 28-year-old organizer from the Khmer Youth Empire—one of 13 youth groups supporting the cause—said that not everyone agreed with the burning of the flag.

“I think most people do not support it but it’s hard to tell them to stop—they will think we are spies.” he said.

However, Seung Hai, the monk who led the burning, threatened further action.

“We have not yet burned or destroyed the building,” he said, referring to the embassy.

“Tomorrow if Tran Van Thong does not come to apologize, I will bring 30 flags to burn,” he added.

Embassy officials could not be reached for comment.

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