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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Vietnamese in Cambodia

View Group Chronology

Cambodia Facts
Area:    818,035 sq. km.
Capital:    Phnom Penh
Total Population:    10,491,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Vietnamese in Cambodia have three of the factors that increase the likelihood of protest in the future: significant political restrictions; the transitional nature of Cambodia's political system; and transnational support from kindred in neighboring Vietnam. However, it is unlikely they will engage in rebellion.


Analytic Summary

The Vietnamese are widely dispersed across Cambodia. They moved into the country in the post-1945 era (TRADITN2 = 1). While some of Vietnamese arrived after Vietnam's 1979 invasion of Cambodia, others had resided in the country for several decades.

While the Vietnamese speak the majority language of Khmer, they also speak Vietnamese. Vietnamese school children are discriminated against by social practice. The Cambodian government is reluctant to acknowledge the Vietnamese as citizens. This means that they are excluded from the mainstream Cambodian society, politics and economy.

The status of the Vietnamese in Cambodia has been significantly influenced by relations between Vietnam and Cambodia and by domestic disputes between the various ideological factions battling for control of the government. The civil war in Vietnam left neighboring Cambodia in a difficult situation. Although the monarchy led by Prince Norodam Sihanouk attempted to remain neutral, factions emerged within Cambodia. In 1970, this internal instability was reported as the reason for the military coup led by Lon Nol. The coup was allegedly supported by the United States. The military government began to publicly oppose the reported presence of (North) Vietnamese communists within Cambodia. In subsequent communal violence, around 12,000 of the more than 400,000 Vietnamese were killed while another 200,000 fled across the border into Vietnam.

Through the early to mid-1970s, Cambodia was increasingly drawn into the Vietnamese civil war. This was especially the case when the United States engaged in massive bombings in Cambodia in an effort to halt the activities of the North Vietnamese rebels, the Viet Cong. In 1975, the Maoist Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, captured power in Cambodia. The country's name was then changed to Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge targeted the country's Vietnamese community which resulted in the deaths or expulsion of some 200,000 Vietnamese. Khmer citizens who were educated or appeared to be supporters of the former regime were also among the up to three million Cambodians killed during the Khmer Rouge's four year rule.

In 1979, Vietnam invaded Kampuchea and overthrew the Khmer Rouge government. Many of the Vietnamese who had fled the country began to return along with some new immigrants who were welcomed by the Kampuchean government which was in desperate need of trained and educated personnel to help rebuild the country.

The status of the Vietnamese since the withdrawal of Vietnam's military forces has been subject to the dynamics of domestic power struggles. The country was governed during the 1980s by the Hanoi-backed Cambodian People's Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen. The UN-negotiated Paris Peace Accords sought to bring stability to Cambodia through multiparty elections which were held in 1993. The Khmer Rouge, which still violently opposed other domestic factions, boycotted the elections. A coalition government was formed by the CPP and the two other parties that participated. Four years later, a coup by the CPP removed its coalition partners which led to renewed anti-government and anti-Vietnamese sentiments. Elections were held again in 1998 and Hun Sen's CPP was reported to be the winner. The legitimacy of the CPP's victory has been challenged by opposition political parties.

The Vietnamese in Cambodia are subject to numerous restrictions. They face demographic stress as a result of dispossession from the territory that they occupy. They have been evicted from land they have occupied for decades by the majority Khmer group along with being forced to leave areas where their floating villages dock due to the actions of state authorities. Thousands of Vietnamese have spent decades residing in some 40 floating villages around the edges of Tonle Sap Lake.

The citizenship status of many Vietnamese remains unsettled. Cambodia's citizenship laws provide minimal protection against deportations while also delaying Vietnamese claims for citizenship. In recent years, state authorities allegedly have deported some Vietnamese after seizing their Cambodian citizenship documents. The political and economic rights of the Vietnamese are severely restricted because they are denied citizenship (POLDIS03 = 4, ECDIS03 = 4).

Most group members are seeking equal civil rights and status within Cambodia (POLGR401-03 = 1). Economic issues include desires for greater economic opportunities and the protection of their land from expropriations by other communal groups or the state (ECONGR301-03 = 2, ECONGR301-03 = 1). In recent years, however, violent attacks against group members have declined.

There are no reported conventional or militant organizations that are politically mobilized to press for group interests (GOJPA03 = 0). There are no reports of protest or rebellion in the period examined (PROT01-03 = 0, REB01-03 = 0). There have also been no reports of any violent disputes within the Vietnamese community (INTRACON01-03 = 0).

Various international actors have expressed concern about the treatment the group receives within Cambodia. These include the UN special representative for Cambodia, the UN Human Rights Commission, Japan, and Vietnam. In recent years, Vietnam has issued numerous diplomatic statements calling for measures to be taken to protect the Vietnamese from attacks by the Khmer community.

Relations between the government and the Vietnamese remain tense. Opposition political parties have openly lobbied for the expulsion of the Vietnamese while the general Khmer population distrusts the group largely due to Vietnam's 1979 invasion.



1. Far Eastern Economic Review, 1990-93.

2. Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-93.

3. Minority Rights Group International, Minorities in Cambodia Report, June 1995.

4. Nexis Library Information, 1990-2003.

5. Phase I, Minorities at Risk, overview compiled by Monty G. Marshall, 07/89.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006