Diplomatic rift mounting between Cambodia and SG over PM Lee’s remark on FB

Source: Channel News Asia.

It has been reported that the Cambodia’s Defence Minister General Tea Banh and Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) legislator Hun Many have both openly rebutted PM Lee Hsien Loong for his remarks regarding the “invasion” of Cambodia by the Vietnamese military in its bid to oust the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia was ruled under the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot, which carried out the Cambodian genocide leading to the deaths of 1.5 to 3 million people or around 25% of Cambodia’s population.

General Banh said that he has made a request to his Singaporean counterpart, Ng Eng Hen, to notify PM Lee to amend his statement earlier, as the pm’s remark “was not true and not reflective of the history [of the event]”.

“We cannot accept what he said. We have already clarified that Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people. We still consider that they came to save our people’s lives. It has been enormously meaningful for us,” General Banh said.

“It is not true at all because he (PM Lee) said that Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia. We want him to make a correction.”

Apparently, General Banh raised the issue with Dr Ng at the 18th Asia Security Summit’s IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2019 in Singapore last weekend.

All started with PM Lee’s Facebook posting

The rout appears to have started last Friday (31 May) when PM Lee talked about his letter to Thailand on Facebook, expressing his condolences on the passing of former Thai PM and President of the Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda.

PM Lee wrote, “His (Gen Prem’s) leadership also benefited the region. His time as PM coincided with the ASEAN members (then five of us) coming together to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge.”

On Mon (3 Jun), Cambodia’s main English paper, The Khmer Times, hit back at PM Lee with an article, (‘Lee Hsien Loong Disrespectful of Khmer Rouge victims‘).

“What is striking is his view in denouncing the regime change that toppled the Khmer Rouge and denying legitimacy of the new Cambodian government that saved lives of the remaining four million Cambodians with support from the Vietnamese forces,” Khmer Times wrote.

“This is nothing but being disrespectful to the Khmer Rouge victims and those who sacrificed their lives in deposing the genocidal regime of Khmer Rouge.”

Khmer Times further accused the Singaporean leadership, “To put the fact straight, not only that Singapore has never denounced auto-genocide conducted by the Pol Pot regime, Singapore even recognised the rogue state and killing machine, provided military assistance, and mobilised international community to deny legitimacy of Heng Samrin’s regime and to deny any humanitarian assistance to survivors of the Khmer Rouge.”

According to Khmer Times’ report, Singapore recognised the Pol Pot regime as legitimate and established diplomatic relations with the Khmer Rouge regime on 6 May 1976. Singapore also invited its leadership for an official visit to Singapore in 1977.

After Khmer Rouge forces were defeated in 1979, it retreated back to the jungles and started guerrilla warfare. Khmer Times noted that Singapore was the first SE Asian country offered to provide military assistance to the guerrilla forces to fight against the new Heng Samrin’s regime. Heng Samrin continues to remain in politics and is the President of the National Assembly of Cambodia as well as an MP for Tboung Khmum Province. At age 85 years, he is presently Cambodia’s oldest parliamentarian.

Khmer Times continued, “After all these forty years, the gut to mention about Singapore’s bravery in denying the toppling of Pol Pot’s regime is nothing but a complete disrespect to lives and souls of Cambodian peoples. The comment made by Lee Hsien Loong touched deeply on Cambodian wound by stirring the memory when the self-acclaimed high moral Singaporean government has never denounced auto-genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge.”

“Cambodian people can forgive but we can never forget our difficult times and we know clearly who were our friends in need. Singapore was not one of those. These Singaporean leaders should be invited to visit Toul Sleng Genocide Museum Archives, which were registered by UNESCO as Memory of the World International Register on 9 August 2010. Also, they can come to visit Cheung Ek mass graves and killing field if they still think that genocide was a fabrication,” it added.

“Lee Hsien Loong’s comment reignited pain of Cambodian people and questioned moral responsibility and sensibility of a statesman towards millions of lives of Cambodian peoples. Singapore’s exclusive and selective peace and exceptionalism is despicable and Singapore should learn to acknowledge the other country’s existence and desire for peace just as much as its own. Singapore’s leaders should start to learn to acknowledge that ASEAN is now ten and not five as they often nostalgically recite. And Cambodia is among those ten, in case Singapore forgets.”

Cambodian politicians joined in criticising PM Lee

Cambodian MP Hun Many has also joined in to show his displeasure. He said he was “beyond surprised” at the recent remarks by PM Lee.

He said PM 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.

The atrocities and crimes against humanity, especially genocide, committed by the Khmer Rouge should never be overlooked or forgotten, he added.

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,” Hun Many said.

“It came in the form of the [Cambodian People’s Party] CPP with the assistance of our neighbour Vietnam.”

Documentation Centre of Cambodia director Youk Chhang said PM 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.

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