Jan 27, 2004

The History of the Vinh Te Canal

by UNG Bun Pheav

I – About the borders:

A little recall of the history of Kampuchea Krom.

The French expeditionary arrived and occupied Prey Nokor in 1859.
At this time, the Annamese (Vietnamese ancestors) already occupied "in a Skin of Leopard " a big part of Kampuchea Krom, wrongly called " Cochinchine " by the French.
Kampuchea Krom is part of the present Vietnam that is currently made up of the region in the western part of Donaï and the delta of the Mekong River. This territory was part of Kampuchea (Cambodia).
The Annamese began to encroach in this territory since the beginning of the 17è century, in their walk southwards (Nam Tien).

Without going in detail, below are the different dates (for information only) that mark the Annamese expansion in Kampuchea Krom :

- 1699 : occupation of the provinces of Baria (Phuoc Him), of Kompong Sraka Trei
(Well Hoa) and of Prey Nokor (Saïgon).
- 1715 : Without the knowledge of the Khmer authorities, the Annamese succeeded
- in controlling the provinces of Peam Banteay Meas (Hatien) and of Krâmuon Sar (Rach Gia).
- 1732 : occupation of the provinces of Peam Mé Sar (My Tho) and of Long Hor (Vinh Long).
- 1757 : temptation of border establishment by the annamites in Moat Chrouk (Chau Doc).
- 1758 : takeover of the province of Preah Trapeang (Tra Vinh) and Khleang (Plowshare Trang).

But contrary to the Vietnamese thesis, these territories are unpopulated before their arrival, all these developments are the outcomes of bloody fights and counter- attacks for the liberations by Khmer, autochthonous population.

- in 1731 : uprising of the Khmer people of the province of Ba Phnom to chase away
the Annamese.
- 1738 : the Khmer army could expel the invaders of the province of Peam Banteay
Meas (Hatien).
- 1743 : The Khmer people of Khleang (Soc Trang) revolted and chased away all
Annamese from their province.
- 1776 : liberation of the provinces of Peam Mé Sar and Long Hor.
- 1835-47 : Khmer people of Preah Trapeang rose up and chased away all Annamese from their territory.
- 1858 : uprising of the Khmer people of Moat Chrouk. At the same time the Kampuchean army definitely chased the Annamese away from the provinces of Khleang, Preah Trapeang and Krâmuon Sâr….

At the arrival of French in this region, the struggles against the invasion by the Annamese continue.

It was exactly to protect his independence, territorial integrity, civilization… from the pressures and the repeated encroachments of the neighbors, from Annam and Siam as well (the latter, himself also, monopolized the whole region of Kingdom), that King ANDUONG called on France, under Napoleon III.

France established the protectorate on Cambodia by the treaty of August 11, 1863 and annexed Kampuchea Krom to make it a French colony.

It is true that before the arrival of the French, there was no " international border " between Cambodia and Kampuchea Krom, that French called “Cochinchine”, since the latter is only the extension of Cambodia.
French began to set up demarcation line from 1869, and the reconnaissance and adornment within the period from 1870 to 1914 between the Colony of Cochinchina and Cambodia under the protectorate.

This delimitation was under the responsibility theauthority of French Colony, in spite of the many protests, again and again, of the Cambodian Crown and the authority of its Protectorate. It is never finished that one asked the King of Cambodia to designate some delegates to be part of the "mixed Commission of delimitation and adornment".
It is an administrative delimitation that was subject to multiple modifications to fit the interests of the Colony. The proof is brought by a letter, written by the Governor of Cochinchina dated July 15, 1869, addressed to the Minister of the Marine says:… “that some villagers neither declare themselves French when they are asked by the King's Mandarin for tax, nor Cambodians until we claim them…"
These repeated delimitations are always at the detriment of Cambodia; French have other ambitions such as: security, political and economic. Therefore it is necessary to gain more lands as possible for the Colony.
During the colonial period, Cambodia has lost the following territories:

- 1870-1873 : the province of Raung Damrei (Tay Ninh), the region situated on the
Vaï-Co rivers, the territories of Peam Banteay Meas (Hatien), the province of Moat
Chrouk (Chau Doc), and the province of Prasat Dâp (Dong Thap).
- 1890-1914 : the province of Choeung Preah (Song Be).
- 1929 : the French annexed the region of the Darlac (Dac Lake) and connected it to
the Colony.
- 1939 : French controlled over Koh Trâl Island and other Khmer islands.

Some testimonies prove that this delimitation had always done to the detriment of Cambodia and several times modified by the authorities of the Colony: inspector Rheinard of Tay Ninh, in his letter of March 23, 1872 to the Director of the Interior says: " We removed from the King the provinces of Rumduol and that of Svay Teap: he saw the works done and the protests followed them… It must not forget that the country was Cambodian until Bien Hoa… keeping in Cochinchine all Cambodian lands of Tay Ninh, in particular the rich regions of Beng Chrum, Sroc Tranh, Chong Ba Deo ".

This administrative limit turned into border after the transfer of the Khmer territory by French authorities to Bao Dai in 1949.

II – About the Vinh Te Canal

The digging of the Vinh Te Canal begun in 1814 under the reign of the Annamese King Minh Mang. The Khmer King of the time was Preah Ang Chan .

“The 13 of the month of Meakasé Year of the Pig (1814), the king of Annam sent Yuamreach Ong Thanh, Ong Binh Thanh, and Ong Loeung to lead 3,000 soldiers as well as 1,000 Cambodians from the province of Preah Trapeang, a total of 4,000 people, to build forts at Moat Chrouk and to dig a canal or channel that drains drain toward the sea, linking Moat Chrouk and the river on the Est ". (Moha Boros Khmer n°6, Eng Sot, page 1043)

" Ten thousand men, of which 5,000 Annamites and 5,000 Cambodians were employed on the field to realize this Canal (Prék Chik), under the supervision of the Annamese. On 33m wide and 2,60 m deep, and linking the western Arm of the Mekong River with the Gulf of Siam, this Canal runs across the Cambodian provinces from Peam (Hatien) to Moat Chrouk (Chaudoc). (History of Cambodia by A. Leclère, page 412).

A bitter history of the digging still remains deeply anchored in the Khmer’s memory to recall these chores was the weakness of Khmer King Ang Chan towards the Annamese, especially among the people of the provinces of Péam, Banteay Meas, Treang and Prey Krabas.

" Working hard in the heat of the sun and under the supervisors’ strokes of stick and starved, many succumbed in the field, because of the awkward tasks, or were taken away by the water current when the Annamese ordered to fill the Canal with water» (Khy Phanra, " the Vietnamese community in Cambodia at the time of the French Protectorate", University of Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris III).

One cannot talk about the digging story of this channel without talking of the narration of the " Kompup Te Ong” that is self connected.

According to the narrations hawked until today, the history would happen to that epoch:

" The Annamese buried, alive up to the neck, any Khmer who rebelled against them, in a way that only the heads stick out to form a tripods before lighting, and the heads were supposed to act as supports for a tea kettle while making their tea".

But according to A. Leclère cited by Khy Phanra (History of Kampot and the rebellion of this province in 1885-86), the history would be provoked by other facts:
" In the province of Kompong Svay, the Annamese in the barrack of Srok Kandal Stung, Baray and Choeung Prey were all slaughtered by the insurgents. The vengeance of the Annamese army was terrifying; and more than one thousand Cambodians in the region were executed. The last were burnt alive; their bare flesh was applied with salt and pepper. The children were buried alive to the neck, in a group of three, so that their head stick out to form three corners of a triangle, and on which the Annamese had their rice cooked or their tea boiled. This torture is named by Cambodians as " Kompup Te Ong”, because answering to the howlings, to the convulsive start of dying that the flame finished to consume, the Annamese torturers didn't stop sneering until the end, coldly, borrowing from the victims their own langue: " Chhop Senn Vei ! Sngiem Vei ! Kampup Te Ong. Let’s finish! don't move! let's see! You turn over the " Master's Tea Kettle”. (Note 63 chapter 1, Khy Phanra, at the time " Vietnamese community in Cambodia of the French protectorate.").
This second version doesn't seem logical, since in 1885-86, the whole region was already under the French colonial administration in Cochinchine, and under the protectorate administration in Cambodia.
However what happened at the time of the digging of the Canal or later, these torments had well taken place on Cambodian people who rebelled against the Annamese.

The King of Annam Ming Mang ordered the digging of the Canal to settle his Mandarins and Annamese there. (letter of S.M. ANG DUONG to Napoléon III).
As the digging was finished, the Annamese would annexed the whole territory located south of the Canal that they considered as being henceforth the border between the two States.




Excerpt from a document of the Ministry of Conferences.

As we saw in the chapter of tentative rescue, S.M. ANG DUONG undertook some campaign in Cochinchina against the Annamese trying to retake his territory. Although he was not devout and sincerely pacific king, in consideration of his people suffered with misery, however this great monarch can never resist to the feeling of sympathy and mercy for oppressed Cambodians in the south. He ordered to build forts in front of the provinces of Chaudoc and Hatien that served as starting points for Khmer troops. Encouraged by the first success and then by the successive Annamese defeats beaten by French, ANG DUONG had deeply engaged and certainly associated with France against Annam in the goal to recover the rich lands so unjustly taken away from his ancestors, if his illness and death had never come in 1860 putting an end to his projects (A. Leclère, History of Cambodia, page 445 to 447).

Besides all these committed wars against the Annamese and his request of assistance and aid from Napoléon III, Emperor of French, King ANG DUONG personally notified the latter his territorial ownership/rights over the Lower Cochinchina. In the month of November 1855, he had solicited Monsignor Miche to write a letter to Napoléon III to show him his friendship. This letter was addressed to the Consul of France in Singapore with a box of presents.

At the time of the arrival of M. Montigny in Cambodia, the King was always with no news on the fate of his request (The second Empire in Indochina by Charles Leyniard, page 359).

In 1856, after the French occupation of the provinces of the East Cochinchina, always through the intermediary of the Consul of Singapore, S.M. King ANG DUONG sent another letter and present to the Emperor Napoléon III, in a manner of protest, while drawing his attention over the territory of Cochinchina as Cambodian land, and while asking him not to receive from the Annamese King any territorial offer that was taken away from Khmer territory. Below is the content of the 1856’s letter extracted from the history of Thailand, 4th reign, 2394 to 2411 of the Buddhist era) and translated in French.

Some years later, in 1864, when S.M. King NORODOM paid a visit of admiral de Lagrandière in Saigon in company of Lieutenant Doudart de Lagrée, he had expressed his ardent desire to see France returned to Cambodia the three provinces of Vinh Long (Vinh Long, Sadec, and Travinh), Chaudoc (Chaudoc, Long Xuyen, Cantho and Son Trang) and Hatien (Hatien, Rach Gia and Bac Lieu) and the treaty of 1862 – nil and void since it is the fate of the Cambodian provinces, ever recognized as Annamese, ceded to Annam with no knowledge of Cambodia. He received a promise over the matter and went back convinced for a return in October 1864 to the Cambodian homeland the provinces that had been once detached (Cambodians of Cochinchine, G., Barrault) .

But in 1867, the Cambodian uprisings for the independence of Cochinchina, that was secretly supported by the Court of Hue, had brought France to occupy these three provinces and to evade the promise made through Admiral de Lagrandière’s word to S.M. NORODOM and to remain silent to the painful protests of the King (les Cambodgiens de Cochinchine, G., Barrault).

- Original text in French by Ung Bun Pheav, CFC-CBC/France
- Translated by Daniel C Marith, CFC-CBC/USA, 01/24/04