Almost four months after mooring lines were cut and their houseboats forced downstream
by armed police, about 900 ethnic Vietnamese floating villagers are confined to their
vessels on the Cambodian/Vietnamese border with dangerously low food supplies.
A worker with the human rights group Licadho told the Post that 180 of the 300 ethnic
Vietnamese families set adrift by municipal authorities on Oct 23 from Phnom Penh's
Meanchay District still remain frozen in legal limbo on the banks of the Bassac River
in the Cambodian border town of Moung Vou in Kandal.
The vast majority of the floating villagers were born in Cambodia, left the Kingdom
during the Pol Pot regime and returned in the early eighties.
Although many of the villagers possess Cambodian family books and voter registration
cards, municipal authorities classified the entire community as "illegal immigrants"
and sought their forcible return to Vietnam.
The villagers' lack of Vietnamese citizenship documents prevented their entry into
Vietnam, thus trapping them in a bureaucratic "Catch-22."
Barred from leaving the immediate area of their boats, the evictees are entirely
dependent on dwindling supplies of food provided by the World Food Program, the Licadho
Surveys indicated that 95 per cent of the villagers would like to stay in Cambodia,
with the majority wanting to return to Phnom Penh.
"We're really worried about these people. ... Some people have already run out
of rice, while others have enough rice for perhaps one more week," the Licadho
worker explained. "There are at least eight people in need of medical attention
who are being prevented from leaving the area to visit local hospitals."
Residents have repeatedly reported that those who attempt to leave the area in order
to find work to buy food are subject to extortion by border police upon their return.
"Last week twelve people left the area and had to pay $200 to the police when
they returned," the Licadho worker said. "The people are watched all the
time and police regularly visit each boat to count the number of occupants to ensure
no-one has gone missing.
In response to the villagers' plight, the government official responsible for their
eviction, Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Chea Sophara, has told Licadho that he would
write letters to both the Cambodian Red Cross and the World Food Programme seeking
additional assistance for the displaced villagers.
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