Nationalists Renege on Threat to Burn Embassy

Nationalist protesters burned Vietnamese flags, hats and currency in front of the country’s embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, but did not follow through on their threat to set fire to the embassy, citing a “lack of forces.”

Led by a group of activist monks, the protesters said on Sunday that they would break into and burn the embassy if they did not receive an apology for comments by a spokesman in June regarding the history of Kampuchea Krom, which is now part of southern Vietnam.

Protesters and activist monks burn Vietnamese currency in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday. (John Vink)
Protesters and activist monks burn Vietnamese currency in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday. (John Vink)

However, on Monday with the protesters splitting into two groups—half at the Vietnamese Embassy and half at Freedom Park, including Thach Setha, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community—the torching of the embassy was called off.

“We prepared gasoline to burn the embassy but we have to be flexible in the circumstances because our forces are less than the armed forces,” said Seung Hai, the most vocal of the monks.

Seung Hai, who was recently threatened with expulsion from Stung Meanchey pagoda for his anti-government activism, blamed Mr. Setha, who opposed the burning of the Vietnamese flag at these protests and at a similar round of demonstrations in August.

“Mr. Thach Setha prevented us from burning the flags [on Sunday] and he did not join us today—he is a useless person,” Seung Hai said.

Mr. Setha is also a member of the opposition CNRP and has been at the forefront of the organization of these anti-Vietnam demonstrations.

At Freedom Park, where protesters gathered to peacefully hold up banners and sing songs, Mr. Setha declined to discuss the actions of the activist monks, aside from saying that his faction of the anti-Vietnam movement wanted to remain peaceful in its protest.

“We cannot make violence,” he said. “And we cannot let our anger control our actions. We are suffering, but we must endure in order to win.”

Mr. Setha will again be at the helm of the protest Tuesday, which will begin at Freedom Park, pass by the National Assembly and finish at the embassy.

Many of the monks, according to Seung Hai, will head to Banteay Meanchey province, where they are campaigning in support of a group of former Khmer Rouge soldiers fighting for their land.

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