Norodom Sihanouk

Officials fear for settlers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 October, 1994, 12:00am

SENIOR Vietnamese officials are warning of a 'growing atmosphere of fear' among Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia as provincial officials attempt to force them from the country.

Reports from Hanoi suggest provincial officials in outlying areas have, since the passing of a controversial immigration bill, ordered Vietnamese settlers to re-register and sell their properties.

Some have been told they would be leaving soon and would not be needing them.

The properties were being sold cheaply to officials.

The news came after the killing of seven Vietnamese - including a six-month-old-boy - by the Khmer Rouge late last week.

Vietnam protested yesterday that the Khmer Rouge's reign of 'terror' was provoking racial hatred and 'destroying . . . good neighbourliness' between the two countries.

The massacre was the latest in a string of attacks on ethnic Vietnamese following the passing of the vague but powerful bill, which appeared to provide for the expulsion of anyone who was not ethnic Khmer.

At least 15 remain kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge, held with three Western hostages after a raid on a train three months ago. Others have simply disappeared, Vietnam said.

Hanoi officials and Asian diplomats fear a mass expulsion could be imminent, with provincial officials also ignoring the word of Cambodian government chiefs who have said nothing would happen before up-coming talks.

Vietnam was also aware of the intention to create camps to 'concentrate, select and expel' Vietnamese inside Cambodia.

Vietnamese authorities are now watching the situation at the border, but are reminding those inside Cambodia of assurances of their safety from Cambodian leaders.

Vietnam has raised strong concerns despite the fact the bill passed virtually unopposed into law, with the assent of King Norodom Sihanouk.

Fierce diplomatic exchanges between Hanoi, the United Nations and Phnom Penh snared agreements from Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and King Sihanouk for talks in November.

Prince Ranariddh had sought to ease fears of United Nations Secretary-General Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, insisting that any application of the law would be co-ordinated with other countries.

'Cambodian leaders have told us that nothing was supposed to happen before the talks,' one Vietnamese source said.

Many Vietnamese believe the key problem is that the only thing anyone agrees on in Cambodian politics, including the Khmer Rouge, is anything anti-Vietnam.

Chairman of the Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, Nguyen Ngoc Tran, said an accord was needed with Cambodia to ensure Vietnamese settlers would be safe.

'Both Cambodia and Vietnam need peace and stability and co-operation,' Mr Tran said.

Second secretary at the Cambodian Embassy in Hanoi, Soaen Sok, said he had not heard reports of provincial officials persecuting Vietnamese.

'Cambodia is committed to its earlier statements that it will be discussing this issue with Vietnam. As far I know nothing else is happening now,' he said.

Vietnam is likely to seek guarantees that the estimated 300,000 Vietnamese inside Cambodia would not be discriminated against, and long-stayers protected.

While providing for expulsion, the law was not backed by nationality legislation outlining who could be classed as a Cambodian citizen.

The law also appeared to run counter to international legal conventions, with deportees having no rights to know the reason why or to make an appeal against an expulsion, Mr Tran said.