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US mooted trips to DK-era Angkor

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Tourists leave Angkor Wat temple as the sun sets in February. Vireak Mai

US mooted trips to DK-era Angkor

Among the hundreds of WikiLeaks cables on Cambodia released yesterday, some revealed the more personal – and bizarre – side to US diplomacy.

A plan hatched to fly US tourists on day trips from Bangkok to visit Angkor Wat “could eventually have [the] impact of opening the regime and moderating [its] domestic policies”, a November 23, 1978, cable asserted.

The US expected either former Thai foreign minister Chatchai Chunhawan’s Erawan airline or national carrier Thai Airways to open the route by the following March, and had prepared to post travel advisories and “warn prospective American tourists of potential dangers and strongly remind them of our inability to provide consular protection for visitors to Kampuchea”.

In Myanmar, the US lobbied Yangon to approach Pol Pot’s regime to “counsel [Phnom Penh] to moderate its policies”, but the one-party state ruled by dictator Ne Win declined the advance. Though “the carnage in Kampuchea appeared to be without recent equal”, a Myanmar official said, “much blood is spilled in people’s revolutions”.

Perhaps most unusual of all is a November 18 cable about then foreign minister Ieng Sary’s four-day visit to Jakarta In October 1978.

Sary, according to Indonesia’s then ambassador to Phnom Penh, said that Cambodians were being given pitiful rations in order to fund a national reconstruction program, before then proceeding to sell Cambodian rice to Jakarta – an offer the Indonesians accepted “for political reasons”.

Indonesia’s would-be man in Phnom Penh, Djundjunan Kusumahardja, took a liking to Sary after talking with the Khmer Rouge leader at his hotel, describing him as “very intelligent, charming, cultured, and with a good sense of humor”.

He preferred Sary to Vietnamese officials, as Sary had paid “all expenses during the visit to Jakarta, unlike the Vietnamese visitors . . . whose hotel bills, food, even telex bills [Indonesia] had to pay”.

“Sary wore a Mao-suit to official functions, but a smart light grey business suit and a colorful tie on informal occasions.”

He “likes to eat” while admiring “the pretty Chinese waitresses during dinner parties, but [he] ogled them only”, Djundjunan reportedly said.

The Indonesian, until then based at the embassy in Bangkok, said he felt “a little nervous about how he may be treated in Kampuchea”.

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