HUN Many, a National Assembly member for Kampong Speu province, said he was “beyond surprised” at recent remarks by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong regarding the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia following the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
Many was responding to comments Lee made on Facebook on Friday while expressing condolences on the passing of former Thai prime minister and general Prem Tinsulanonda.
Many, the fifth child of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Lee’s comments regarding the period represented only one angle of a complex situation, in particular, the political stance some Southeast Asian nations held at the time.
On Friday, Lee said Prem’s leadership benefited not only Thailand but the whole region.
He said Prem’s tenure as Thai prime minister from 1980-88 coincided with the then five Asean member states coming together to oppose the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the government that replaced the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia. General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli and worked with Asean partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums."
“This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asian countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region,” Lee said.
Many responded by saying the atrocities and crimes against humanity, especially genocide, committed by the Khmer Rouge should never be overlooked or forgotten.
The world should not forget how much Cambodians suffered, he said. Close to three million innocent victims died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge over three years, eight months and 20 days because the world turned a blind eye to Cambodia.
“While everyone was playing politics, Cambodians were praying for help. We wanted to be saved from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, and it did not matter from who and from where that help came from."
“It came in the form of the [Cambodian People’s Party] CPP with the assistance of our neighbour Vietnam,” he said.
Cambodian historian Diep Sophal said Lee’s remarks focused on just one part of the complex circumstances involving Cambodia and Vietnam during the cold war.
He said the Asean countries at that time, especially Thailand and Singapore, were concerned with the strength of communist Vietnam and did not care much about the situation in Cambodia.
“We should not look at just one angle in all of this. We must look at the role the Cold War played, with countries vying with each other to further their interests,” Sophal said.
He said that in foreign policy, politicians acted for the sake of their nation, with what happened in other countries a secondary concern.
“There is no doubt for me as to why the Singaporean prime minister said what he did regarding the presence of Vietnam [in Cambodia]."
“He said this to express his opposition to the presence of Vietnam in Cambodia because it affected the security of Thailand and Singapore as Vietnam was a powerful country,” Sophal said.
Documentation Centre of Cambodia director Youk Chhang said Lee’s words showed there was a need to establish an Asean peace and human rights education programme for the region – starting with Singapore.
“There have been many developments recently to promote the respect for human rights in the region, including the Asean Convention on Counter Terrorism, the Asean Human Rights Declaration and the Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates."
“When you don’t learn from history, you seem very uncivilised in the modern world,” Chhang said.