Khmer Krom

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Khmer Krom
Total population
 Vietnam 1,260,640 (2009)[1]
Regions with significant populations
(Mekong River Delta)
Vietnamese, Khmer
Theravada Buddhism
Khmer Krom boat

The Khmer Krom (Khmer: ខ្មែរក្រោម, Vietnamese: Khơ Me Crộm) are indigenous Khmer people in southern Vietnam. In the Khmer language, Krom means "lower" or "below", as it refers to the lower reaches of the Mekong Delta, south of Cambodia proper. In the Vietnamese language, they are known as Khơ-me Crộm or Khơ-me dưới, which literally means "Khmer from below", a translation of the Khmer term.


The Khmer Krom are ethnic Khmer who inhabit Kampuchea Krom, an area in southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer Empire.[2]

According to Vietnamese government figures (1999 census), there are 1,055,174 Khmer Krom in Vietnam.


Beginning in the early 17th century, colonization of the area by Vietnamese settlers gradually isolated the Khmer of the Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper and resulted in their becoming a minority in the delta.

Prey Nokor was the most important commercial seaport to the Khmers. It began as a small fishing village, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese. The city's name was changed by Vietnam to Sài Gòn and then Hồ Chí Minh City. The loss of the city prevented the Cambodians from access to the South China Sea. Subsequently, the Khmers' access to the sea was now limited to the Gulf of Thailand. The area that Saigon/Hồ Chí Minh City now occupies was originally swampland.

In 1623, King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia (1618–1628) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trịnh–Nguyễn War in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nokor. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the Cambodian kingdom, weakened because of war with Thailand, could not impede, slowly Vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon.

In 1698, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area, and detach the area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene. Beginning in 1698, the area started to come under Vietnamese administration. The Vietnamese eventually were to become the majority population in many places[citation needed].

In 1757, the Vietnamese colonized the provinces of Psar Dèk (renamed Sa Đéc in Vietnamese) and Moat Chrouk (vietnamized to Châu Đốc)

In 1802 Nguyễn Ánh crowned himself emperor Gia Long and had unified all territories which are now modern Vietnam, including the Khmer Krom territory.

Cambodian nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh (1908–77) was a Khmer krom, born in Trà Vinh, Vietnam. Cambodia got independence in Geneva, 1954, through the Vietnamese struggle in the First Indochina War.

Between 1964 and 1974 Khmer Krom people were recruited by the US military to serve in MIKE Force during the Vietnam War.[3] First they fought on the side of South Vietnam against the Viet Cong, but in time these militia groups named themselves the "Struggling Front of Kampuchea Krom" (French: Front de Lutte du Kampuchea Krom) of southern Vietnam. This group, originally founded by a Khmer Krom Buddhist monk named Samouk Sen were nicknamed "White Scarves" (Khmer: Kangsaing Sar; Vietnamese: Can Sen So) and were affiliated to FULRO.[4]

After the 1975 Communist victory the Kampuchea Krom militias found it hard to struggle against the onslaughts of the Vietnamese Armed Forces and went across the border to Democratic Kampuchea hoping to find a safe haven from which to launch their operations. In 1976 a group of 68 "White Scarves" and their leader sought refuge in a village close to the Vietnamese border in Kiri Vong District and approached the Khmer Rouge authorities telling them to communicate their decision to Khieu Samphan. Initially they were welcomed and disarmed, but when the orders from the DK rulers reached the local authorities, the "White Scarves" were separated from their leader. He was subsequently brought to Phnom Penh where he was murdered after being tortured, meanwhile his 67 Khmer Krom troops were massacred to the last man. During the following months, a total of around 2,000 "White Scarves" that crossed the border seeking refuge in Democratic Kampuchea were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge.[5]

In the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime attacked Vietnam in an attempt to reconquer the areas which were formerly part of the Khmer Empire, but this military adventure was a total disaster and precipitated the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese army and subsequent downfall of the Khmer Rouge, with Vietnam occupying Cambodia.

Human Rights[edit]

Flag of Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF)

Many independent NGOs report that the human rights of the Khmer Krom are being violated by the Vietnamese government. Khmer Krom are reportedly forced to adopt Vietnamese family names and speak the Vietnamese language.[6][7]

Unlike other minority people groups of Vietnam, the Khmer Krom are largely unknown in the Western world, despite efforts by associations of exiled Khmer Krom such as the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation to publicize their plight with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation. No Western government has yet raised the matter of the Khmer Krom's human rights with the Vietnamese government.[6]


  1. ^ "The 2009 Vietnam Population and Housing Census: Completed Results". General Statistics Office of Vietnam: Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee. June 2010. p. 134. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Stuart-Fox, William, The Murderous Revolution: Life & Death in Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Alternative Publishing Co-Operative Limited, 1985, pp. 6.
  3. ^ Vietnam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971, CMH Publication 90-23, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1989 (First Printed, 1973)
  4. ^ Radu, M. The New Insurgencies, Transaction Publishers, 1990, p.202
  5. ^ Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79. New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-14434-5, 1996
  6. ^ a b Human Rights Watch: "On the Margins: Rights and Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta" 2009
  7. ^ Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation: "Rearhoo: The Dark Ages"

External links[edit]