Khmer Krom

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Khmer Krom
ជនជាតិខ្មែរក្រោម (Khmer)
người Khmer Nam Bộ (Vietnamese)
Khmer Krom wedding in Trà Vinh province
Total population
c. 2.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Southern Vietnam (Mekong Delta and SE Vietnam)1.32 million (2019)[1]
Cambodia1.2 million (1999)[2]
United States30,000 (1999)[2]
France3,000 (1999)[2]
Australia1,000 (1999)[2]
Other countries6,000 (1999)[2]
Khmer, Vietnamese
Theravada Buddhism 95%,[3] Roman Catholic 5%
Related ethnic groups
Khmers, Northern Khmers

The Khmer Krom (Khmer: ជនជាតិខ្មែរក្រោម, Chónchéatĕ Khmêr Kraôm, [cɔnciət kʰmae kraom]; lit.'Lower Khmer people' or 'Southern Khmer people'; Vietnamese: người Khmer Nam Bộ, người Khmer Việt Nam, người Việt gốc Miên (used before 1975)) are ethnically Khmer people living in or from the region of Tây Nam Bộ, the south western part of Vietnam. In Vietnam, they are recognized as one of Vietnam's fifty-three ethnic minorities.

In Accordance to Resolution 117-CT/TƯ issued September 29, 1981 of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam and Resolution 122-CT issued on May 12, 1982 from the Vietnamese Ministry Committee, Khmer was sanctioned by the government as the only state-recognized ethnonym of the Khmer Krom people, stated that all other colloquial exonyms previously used by Vietnamese to refer to Khmer people "are incorrect and have negative racial connotations." Both Resolutions declared that any acts of misuse to misspelling that intended to incite and direct hate speech and discrimination toward the Khmer people are prohibited by the law.[4]

In Khmer, Krom (ក្រោម kraôm) means 'low' or 'below'. It is added to differentiate from the Khmers in Cambodia. Most Khmer Krom live in Tây Nam Bộ, the southern lowland region of historical Cambodia covering an area of 89,000 square kilometres (34,363 sq mi) around modern day Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, which used to be the southeasternmost territory of the Khmer Empire until its incorporation into Vietnam under the Nguyễn lords in the early 18th century. This marks the final stage of the Vietnamese "March to the South" (Nam tiến).[5][6]

Khmer Krom people have been members of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization since 15 July 2001.[7]

According to the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) "the Khmer Krom people face serious restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement".[8]


The majority of Khmer Krom live in Southern Vietnam. According to Vietnamese government figures (2019 census), there are 1,319,652 Khmer Krom in Vietnam. Their distribution is as follows: Sóc Trăng (362,029 people, constituting 30.18% of the province's population and 27.43% of all Khmer in Vietnam), Trà Vinh (318,231 people, constituting 31.53% of the province's population and 24.11% of all Khmer in Vietnam), Kiên Giang (211,282 people, constituting 12.26% of the province's population and 16.01% of all Khmer in Vietnam), An Giang (75,878 people), Bạc Liêu (73,968 people), Bình Dương (65,233 people), Hồ Chí Minh City (50,422 people), Cà Mau (26,110 people), Đồng Nai (23,560 people), Vĩnh Long (22,630 people) each constituting less than 10% of all Khmer in Vietnam.[1]

Other estimates vary considerably, with the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation claiming that there are about 7 million Khmer Krom.[3] A significant number of Khmer Krom also fled to Cambodia, estimated at 1.20 million by one source.[9]

In other parts of the world, there are approximately 40,000 Khmer Krom emigrants notably in the United States (30,000), France (3,000), Australia (1,000), Canada (500).[9] Khmer Krom emigrant communities in the US are located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in Washington state.[10]


Prow of the tuk ngo, Khmer Krom styled boat used in celebratory races

The Khmer Krom identify ethnically with the Khmer people who constitute a distinct people at least since the late eighth century and the foundation of the Khmer Empire by Jayavarman II in 802 C.E.[11] They retain deep linguistic, religious, customary and cultural links to Cambodia proper.[12] The Mekong Delta region constituted for more than 800 years an integral part of the empire and the subsequent kingdom.[13] The region's economic center was the city of Prey Nokor, now Ho Chi Minh City.


Ancient Vĩnh Hưng tower, a religious structure built in 9th century CE by Khmer people, in Vĩnh Lợi district, Bạc Liêu province

Absorption of the Mekong Delta by Vietnam[edit]

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

In 1698 the Nguyễn Lords of Huế commissioned Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble to organize the territory along Vietnamese administrative lines, thus by de facto detaching it from the Kingdom of Cambodia and incorporating it into Vietnam.[14]

With the loss of the port of Prey Nokor, then renamed Saigon, 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 the Cambodian kingdom. 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.[5]

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 including the Cambodians, in line with Confucianism as he diffused Vietnamese culture with China's Han civilization using the term Han people 漢人 for the Vietnamese.[15] 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."[16][17] These policies were directed at the Khmer and hill tribes.[18]

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.

During the Vietnam War and direct American involvement between 1964 and 1974, the Khmer Krom were recruited by the United States Armed Forces to serve in MIKE Force.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the Communist take-over of all of Vietnam, the Kampuchea Krom militia found itself embattled with People's Army of Vietnam. Many of the fighters fled to Khmer Rouge-controlled 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 Kampuchea were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge.[22]

In the late 1970s, the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army 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 Democratic Kampuchea by the People's Army of Vietnam and subsequent downfall of the Khmer Rouge, with Vietnam occupying Kampuchea.

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.[23][24] As well, the Vietnamese government has cracked down on non-violent demonstrations by the Khmer Krom.[25]

Unlike some other minority people groups in Vietnam[who?], 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.[23]

The "Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group" was visited by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation.[26]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b General Statistics Office of Vietnam (2019). "Completed Results of the 2019 Viet Nam Population and Housing Census" (PDF). Statistical Publishing House (Vietnam). ISBN 978-604-75-1532-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Khmer Krom Background". Retrieved 2019-05-04.
  3. ^ a b "The Culture of the Khmer-Krom". KKF | Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation. December 29, 2012.
  4. ^ Chỉ thị của Chủ tịch Hội đồng Bộ trưởng số 122-CT ngày 12/5/1982 về công tác đối với đồng bào Khmer, Văn phòng Quốc hội, cơ sở dữ liệu luật Việt Nam[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b "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.
  6. ^ "Mak Phœun: Histoire du Cambodge de la fin du XVIe au début du XVIIIe siècle - According to Cambodian oral tradition, the marriage was because a weak Cambodian king fell in love..." (PDF). Michael Vickery’s Publications. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  7. ^ "Khmer Krom". Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Jan 30, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  8. ^ "Khmer Krom in Cambodia Mark Loss of Their Homeland". Radio Free Asia. June 4, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Khmer Krom People Statistics". KKF | Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation. Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF). Jan 3, 2006. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  10. ^ Chan, Sucheng (2003). Not just victims: conversations with Cambodian community leaders in the United States. Kim, Audrey U. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 265. ISBN 025202799X. OCLC 49942929.
  11. ^ Stuart-Fox, William, The Murderous Revolution: Life & Death in Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Alternative Publishing Co-Operative Limited, 1985, pp. 6.
  12. ^ "Reconstituting the "Un-Pereson": The Khmer Krom & The Khmer Rouge Tribunal". Singapore Year Book of International Law and Contributorsb. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  13. ^ "Memorandum By Cambodia on Her Territories in South Viet-Nam..." (PDF). caraweb. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 9, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  14. ^ Church, Peter (2012-02-03). MA Short History of South-East Asia edited by Peter Church. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118350447. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ A. Dirk Moses (1 January 2008). Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History. Berghahn Books. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-84545-452-4.
  17. ^ Ta, Van Tai. "The Vietnamese Tradition of Human Rights" (PDF). Indochina Research Monograph. Institute of East Asian Studies ^§V) University of California, Berkeley: 134.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Vietnam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971, CMH Publication 90-23, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1989 (First Printed, 1973)
  20. ^ Radu, M. The New Insurgencies, Transaction Publishers, 1990, p.202
  21. ^ Kiernan, B. (2004). How Pol Pot came to Power. Yale University Press. p. 348. ISBN 9780300102628.
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ a b Human Rights Watch: "On the Margins: Rights and Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta" Archived 2013-04-23 at the Wayback Machine 2009
  24. ^ "Rearhoo (The Dark Age) - KKF". 6 August 2009. Archived from the original on 6 August 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  25. ^ "On the Margins". Human Rights Watch. 21 January 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  26. ^ "UNPO: Khmer Krom Attend UPR Session on Vietnam".

External links[edit]