Khmer Krom

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Khmer Krom
Khmer Krom in Trà Vinh.jpg
Total population
( Vietnam 1,260,640 (2009)[1]
Regions with significant populations
(Mekong River Delta)
Khmer, Vietnamese
Theravada Buddhism, Roman Catholic
Khmer Krom boat

The Khmer Krom (Khmer: ខ្មែរក្រោម, Vietnamese: Khơ Me Crộm) are indigenous Khmer people living in the South-western part of Vietnam, representing an ethnic minority. In the Khmer language, Krom means "lower" or "below", as it refers to an area of 89,000 km2 (34,363 sq mi) around modern day Saigon and the Mekong Delta, once comprising the southernmost territory of the Khmer Empire. The Vietnamese, term is Khơ-me Crộm or Khơ-me dưới, which literally means "Khmers from below".[2]


The Khmer Krom are ethnic Khmer who inhabit Kampuchea Krom, an area in southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer Empire.[3] Among the Khmer Krom the belief is held that they are the descendants of ancient Funan, the core of Suvarnabhumi, which covered a vast extent of Southeast Asia including present day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaya, Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia.[4]

According to Vietnamese government figures (1999 census), there are 1,055,174 Khmer Krom in Vietnam. Other estimates vary considerably, with up to 7 million reported to Taylor (2014) in his The Khmer lands of Vietnam.[5]


Main article: History of Cambodia

Absorption of the Mekong Delta by Vietnam[edit]

A weakened Khmer state after repeated warfare with Siam in the 17th century left the Mekong Delta poorly administered. Concurrently Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trịnh–Nguyễn War in Vietnam pushed into the area. Cambodian king Chey Chettha II (1618–1628) in 1623 officially sanctioned the Vietnamese to operate a custom house at Prey Nokor, then a small fishing village. The settlement grew steadily as a major regional port, attracting even more settlers.

The Nguyễn Lords of Huế in 1698 commissioned Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, to organize the territory along Vietnamese administrative lines, thus by de facto detaching it from Cambodia and joining it to Vietnam.[6]

With the loss of the port of Prey Nokor, then renamed Sài Gòn, Cambodia's control of the area grew increasingly tenuous while increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers to the Delta isolated the Khmer of the Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper. By 1757, the Vietnamese had absorbed the provinces of Psar Dèk (renamed Sa Đéc in Vietnamese) on the Mekong itself, and Moat Chrouk (Vietnamized to Châu Đốc) on the Bassac River.[7]

Minh Mạng enacted assimilation policies upon the Khmer such as forcing them to adopt Sino-Vietnamese surnames, culture, and clothing. Minh Mang sinicized ethnic minorities such as Cambodians, claimed the legacy of Confucianism and China's Han dynasty for Vietnam, and used the term Han people 漢人 to refer to the Vietnamese.[8] Minh Mang declared that "We must hope that their barbarian habits will be subconsciously dissipated, and that they will daily become more infected by Han [Sino-Vietnamese] customs."[9] This policies were directed at the Khmer and hill tribes.[10]

On June 4, 1949, the French President, Vincent Auriol, signed the law granting Cochin-China to the Bao Dai government without consultation of the indigenous Khmer-Krom. Cambodia was then cut off from direct access to the South China Sea at that point. Left within the borders of Vietnam were large pockets of Khmer people, now known as the Khmer Krom.

Separatist movements[edit]

Khmer nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh (1908–77) was a Khmer krom, born in Trà Vinh, Vietnam. Thanh was active in the independence movement for Cambodia. With Japanese support he became the prime minister of Cambodia in March 1945 but was then quickly ousted with the return of the French later that year. Widely supported by the Khmer Krom during the First Indochina War, Thanh's role faded in Vietnam after 1954 as he became more embroiled with politics in Cambodia proper, forming an opposition movement against Prince Sihanouk.

The foreign powers allowed the Khmer Krom's land in Cochinchina to be subject to settlement by anti-Communist Vietnamese from northern Vietnam who were fleeing from Ho Chi Minh.[11]

During the Vietnam War and direct American involvement between 1964 and 1974, the Khmer Krom were recruited by the US military to serve in MIKE Force.[12] The force fought on the side of South Vietnam against the Viet Cong but in time the militia regrouped as the "Front for the struggle of Kampuchea Krom" (French: Front de Lutte du Kampuchea Krom). Headed by a Khmer Krom Buddhist monk, Samouk Sen, the group was nicknamed the "White Scarves" (Khmer: Kangsaing Sar; Vietnamese: Can Sen So) and allied itself with FULRO against South Vietnam.[13] FULRO was an alliance of Khmer Krom, Montagnard, and Cham groups.

The anti-Communist prime minister of the Khmer Republic (1970 - 1975) Lon Nol planned to recapture the Mekong Delta from South Vietnam.[citation needed]

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the Communist take-over of all of Vietnam, the Kampuchea Krom militia found itself embattled with North Vietnamese Army. Many of the fighters fled to Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea) hoping to find a safe haven to launch their operations inside Vietnam. The "White Scarves" arrived in Kiri Vong District in 1976, making overture to the Khmer Rouge and appealing to the leader Khieu Samphan directly for assistance. The force was disarmed and welcomed initially. Subsequent orders from the Khmer Rouge leadership however had Samouk Sen arrested, taken to Phnom Penh, tortured, and killed. His force of 67 Khmer Krom fighters were all massacred. During the following months, some 2,000 "White Scarves" fighters crossing into Cambodia were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge.[14]

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.[15][16]

Unlike other minority people groups in Vietnam, the Khmer Krom are largely unknown by 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.[15]

The "Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group" was visited the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation.[17]

The Vietnamese brually crackdowned down on non violent demonstrations by the Khmer Krom.[18]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "Khmer Krom". UNREPRESENTED NATIONS AND PEOPLES ORGANIZATION. July 17, 2015. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  3. ^ Stuart-Fox, William, The Murderous Revolution: Life & Death in Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Alternative Publishing Co-Operative Limited, 1985, pp. 6.
  4. ^ Philip Taylor, The Khmer lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology, and Sovereignty, Honolulu, Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014, pp.36-37, 65, 67, 271.
  5. ^ Taylor P. (2014)The Khmer lands of Vietnam: environment, cosmology and sovereignty. National University of Singapore Press.
  6. ^ "MA Short History of South-East Asia edited by Peter Church". Google Books. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  7. ^ "Reconceptualizing Southern Vietnamese History from the 15th to 18th Centuries Competition along the Coasts from Guangdong to Cambodia by Brian A. Zottoli". University of Michigan. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Norman G. Owen (2005). The Emergence Of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 115–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2890-5. 
  9. ^ A. Dirk Moses (1 January 2008). Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History. Berghahn Books. pp. 209–. ISBN 978-1-84545-452-4. Archived from the original on 2008. 
  10. ^ Randall Peerenboom; Carole J. Petersen; Albert H.Y. Chen (27 September 2006). Human Rights in Asia: A Comparative Legal Study of Twelve Asian Jurisdictions, France and the USA. Routledge. pp. 474–. ISBN 978-1-134-23881-1. 
  11. ^ "Khmer Krom Nation". 
  12. ^ Vietnam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971, CMH Publication 90-23, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1989 (First Printed, 1973)
  13. ^ Radu, M. The New Insurgencies, Transaction Publishers, 1990, p.202
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ a b Human Rights Watch: "On the Margins: Rights and Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta" 2009
  16. ^ Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation: "Rearhoo: The Dark Ages"
  17. ^ "UNPO: Khmer Krom Attend UPR Session on Vietnam". 
  18. ^

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