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Foreign minister lashes out at US over Khmer Rouge ‘support’

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks to supporters in Kandal province yesterday, where he claimed that the United States had continued to support the Khmer Rouge up until a statement it released last week marking the January 7 ‘Victory over Genocide Day’. Facebook
Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks to supporters in Kandal province yesterday, where he claimed that the United States had continued to support the Khmer Rouge up until a statement it released last week marking the January 7 ‘Victory over Genocide Day’. Facebook

Foreign minister lashes out at US over Khmer Rouge ‘support’

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on Sunday criticised the United States government for allegedly failing to recognise Khmer Rouge-perpetrated genocide until recently, accusing the US of suppressing criticism of the Pol Pot regime.

In his speech to party supporters in Kandal province, audio of which was obtained yesterday, Sokhonn did not mention China’s active financial support of the Khmer Rouge throughout its rule and lasting until 1991, instead rebuking the US for not taking a vociferous enough stand against them.

In commemoration of January 7, the day in 1979 when Vietnamese-backed forces ousted the Khmer Rouge from the capital, the US Embassy issued a statement to remember “the two million lives lost during the Khmer Rouge era and the millions more who suffered”.

In response, Sokhonn called attention to what he described as previous support by the US for the Khmer Rouge, even saying that the US had prevented any mention of genocide during the Paris Peace Accord negotiations in the early 1990s.

“It has kept denying it and has never recognised it [the genocide]. But now it recognises it,” he said.

Following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge-led government, the US backed a vote at the United Nations in 1979 to allow the Khmer Rouge to officially represent Cambodia in the General Assembly, which was seen as an effort to buffer Vietnam’s influence in the country.

Since then, however, the US has supported the creation of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the pre-eminent body established to conduct research into Khmer Rouge atrocities, and as of March last year was the second-largest donor to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which has sought to prosecute the regime’s crimes – in some cases over the objections of the government.

The US Embassy did not comment on the minister’s comments as of press time.

Noted historian David Chandler pointed to these contributions yesterday, and said all participants at the Paris Peace Accords negotiations – except for the Cambodian government at the time – were reluctant to address the genocide, including both the US and China.

Unlike the US, however, China has since become Cambodia’s largest donor and staunchest supporter amid an ongoing political crackdown on dissent in the Kingdom.

The US, meanwhile, has been one of the government’s most vocal critics.

While the Khmer Rouge were in power, Beijing is believed to have provided an estimated 90 percent of foreign assistance to the regime, and it continued to support them as they waged a guerrilla war against the Vietnamese-backed government, led by current Prime Minister Hun Sen and his peers.

Nonetheless, Sokhonn did not mention China – just as the Chinese role in supporting the Khmer Rouge was skirted in a recent 90-minute long propaganda film released to commemorate the 39th anniversary of Pol Pot’s ouster. Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that China’s involvement with the Khmer Rouge need not be discussed anymore.

“There is no need to raise this because the Chinese have recognised January 7 long ago,” he said. “Every year during the commemoration of the January 7 anniversary, the Chinese ambassador always attends the meeting.”

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