Vietnam calls on Cambodia to protect immigrants

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam called on Cambodia on Tuesday to guarantee the legal rights of Vietnamese migrants living there after the Cambodian government said it would revoke the invalid documents of 70,000 immigrants, most of them ethnic Vietnamese.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment is widespread in Cambodia and has often been used as a tool by opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who came to power during Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia after it drove out the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry hopes Cambodia will take appropriate measures to guarantee the legal and legitimate rights of ethnic Vietnamese in the country, ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement.

“We hope that while people are waiting for their legal documents to be completed, they will be able to maintain a stable life and continue contributing to Cambodia’s socio-economic development,” she added.

Last week Cambodian immigration authorities said they would seize documents issued improperly to 70,000 people, most of them ethnic Vietnamese, but they have not threatened their forcible removal.

Responding to Vietnam, Cambodia vowed to ensure respect for legal and human rights in its enforcement of immigration laws.

“We won’t enforce it like the one done by the Pol Pot regime,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, referring to the leader of the Khmer Rouge movement responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.8 million Cambodians in the 1970s, and which targeted Vietnamese, among other groups.

Ethnic Vietnamese have settled in what is now Cambodia for hundreds of years, particularly during the 19th and 20th century period when both were part of French possessions overseas.

More arrived when Vietnam occupied Cambodia after ousting the Khmer Rouge and before the 1990 withdrawal of its forces.

Political tension has been rising in Cambodia ahead of a general election next year in which Prime Minister Hun Sen aims to extend his 32-year rule. The arrest of his main rival and a threat to ban the main opposition party have provoked Western condemnation.

Reporting by Mi Nguyen; Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez