Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced the resumption of the MIA programme to recover the remains of American service personnel missing after action on Cambodian soil during the Vietnam War.
The programme was suspended for more than a year after the US government imposed visa restrictions on Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and their families.
A spokesman for the ruling party said on Sunday that Cambodia’s resumption of the POW/MIA programme was a “humanitarian act” which highlighted the Kingdom’s respect for human rights.
However, the US embassy in Phnom Penh said on Sunday that it had yet to receive official word confirming the move.
In announcing the suspension of the MIA search programme on September 15 last year, the prime minister said around half of some 80 US soldiers who had died in Cambodia during the Vietnam War remained missing.
On September 13 last year, the US embassy announced a ban on business and tourist visas for Cambodian Foreign Ministry officials and their families in response to the Kingdom’s refusal to accept what it deemed the “inhumane” deportation of its citizens convicted of felonies in the US.
Separately, the US, in December last year, began restricting visas for senior Cambodian government officials it accused of “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom after the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November the same year.
According to a letter sent to US Republican Senator Doug Ericksen and Republican Representative Vincent Buys, and copied to Ann Mills-Griffiths, chairperson and CEO of the National League of POW/MIA Families, dated Friday and released publicly on Saturday, Hun Sen said his government “agreed with the reactivation” of the POW/MIA programme.
“The POW/MIA programme had been running successfully for more than 30 years before being suspended after Cambodia was unjustly sanctioned for the simple fact that we requested more consideration from the US on similar humanitarian grounds in the Cambodian repatriation programme,” Hun Sen continues.
“As we have discussed before and at your personal request as well as that made by other US organisations, my Government, in the same compassionate spirit, agreed to resume this important POW/MIA field mission, regardless of US visa restriction in place.”
Ericksen and Buys went to New York last month to meet with the prime minister, who was attending the United Nations General Assembly.
They also wrote to Hun Sen on October 2, asking for the search programme to be allowed to continue, according to a Seattle Times report.
“Families of those Americans who are missing in action have spent nearly 50 years seeking answers about their loved ones,” Ericksen said, the Times reported.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan on Sunday questioned which of the two nations “respects human rights more?” in comments describing the decision as a “humanitarian act [that reflects a] respect for human rights”.
“Based on the request from a US senator in Washington state, the Cambodian government agreed to resume the POW/MIA programme on humanitarian grounds, [which shows] deep empathy with the victims’ families,” he said.
“The gesture of the Cambodian government on the reactivation of the POW/MIA programme shows which [nation] is more humanitarian and respects human rights more.”
When contacted by The Post, Emily Zeeberg, a spokesperson at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, on Sunday said that the embassy had not yet received an official communication on the matter.
“We have seen media reports noting a decision by the Royal Government of Cambodia to resume humanitarian cooperation on POW/MIA issues but have not yet received an official communication to that effect,” she said via email.