A US politician and supporter of the ruling CPP is to attend Thursday’s January 7 celebrations of the fall of the Khmer Rouge at the hands of Vietnamese-backed forces and meet with Prime Minster Hun Sen, a government spokesman said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that Eni Faleomavaega, a member of the Democratic Party who represents the territory of American Samoa in the US House of Representatives, and two other congressmen were to arrive in Siem Reap yesterday evening for a three-day visit.
Mr Faleomavaega, a non-voting member of Congress and chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, is joined by Mike Honda, a Democrat of California, and Joseph Cao, a Republican from Louisiana who was born in the former South Vietnam.
Mr Kuong said the trio is scheduled to tour the Angkor temples today before paying Prime Minister Hun Sen a courtesy call on Thursday and lunching with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
Mr Kuong said he did not know what the three congressmen will discuss with the premier and foreign minister but he said Mr Faleomavaega would join the Jan 7 celebrations early Thursday.
The CPP expects a crowd of 10,000 at the party’s Chamkar Mon district headquarters in Phnom Penh to mark the 31st anniversary of the day Vietnamese forces—along with a contingent of Cambodian defectors—ran the Pol Pot regime out of Phnom Penh.
Some 50,000 Cambodians gathered at Olympic Stadium on Jan 7 last year to mark the day in 1979 many recognize as the beginning of the end of the Khmer Rouge’s bloody grip on power. But the day means different things to different people. Some see the day rather as the beginning of the country’s occupation by Vietnam, which did not draw its last troops out of the country until 1989.
The attendance of Mr Faleomavaega at Thursday’s celebration has historical resonance. The US imposed harsh sanctions on Cambodia following Vietnam’s role in ousting Pol Pot in 1979, and refused to recognize the government in Phnom Penh, which it considered a proxy of Hanoi. Alongside an aid and trade embargo, Washington and other governments isolated the Phnom Penh government throughout the 1980s and instead recognized a coalition government in exile— which included the Khmer Rouge—as the legitimate rulers of Cambodia.
In a letter released yesterday, Son Soubert, son of the respected former Khmer People’s National Liberation Front leader Son Sann, said Jan 7 merely marked the day Cambodia swapped one master for another.
After Jan 7, 1979, he wrote, “French Indochina turned to Vietnamese Indochina.”
Mr Hun Sen, who participated in the Vietnamese-sponsored rout of the Khmer Rouge, regularly rebukes those who fail to venerate the Jan 7 anniversary, which his party claims brought peace to Cambodia. Non-supporters of the ruling CPP see the Jan 7 celebration as a party-political maneuver that aims to draw attention away from the previously national holiday of Oct 23, which marked the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991 and which effectively ended decades of conflict in Cambodia.
Mr Kuong said Mr Faleomavaega’s colleagues would not join him at the Jan 7 celebrations. Mr Honda and Mr Cao plan to spend the morning visiting Phnom Penh’s S-21 genocide museum instead.
Mr Kuong said he was unaware of any previous attendance at the Jan 7 celebrations by a US member of Congress, and did not know why Mr Honda and Mr Cao would not be joining Mr Faleomavaega at the event.
Mr Faleomavaega was the CPP’s only friend in Washington last September when SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua and two other Cambodian civil society representatives testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan Congressional panel that strongly criticized the Cambodian government on matters including labor rights abuses and freedom of speech.
In a letter dated the day of the hearing, Mr Faleomavaega chastised the Lantos commission for failing to include representatives of the CPP in the hearing.
“Cambodia needs our support not our criticism,” he wrote at the time.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said the three congressmen are on a regional tour that includes Laos and Vietnam.
“We obviously welcome their visit and we hope it’s a productive one,” he said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said he had heard of the congressmen’s visit but did not know of any meeting they had scheduled with the opposition party.
Even so, Mr Sovann said he welcomed any efforts by the CPP to foster closer ties with Washington.
“I hope that the CPP will learn from the US, especially about respect for democracy,” he said.
Mr Sovann declined to comment on Mr Faleomavaega’s Sept 10 letter in support of the government, saying, “That is his opinion, but other congressmen understand the real situation in Cambodia.”
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