Cambodian officials are bristling this week after a recent remark by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recalling Vietnam’s January 1979 invasion and decade-long occupation of Cambodia.
Lee used his official Facebook page on May 31 to send Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha condolences on the death of former Thai Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda, who led Thailand during the period of Vietnam’s control of Cambodia and joined a coalition of nations who fought to end Hanoi’s occupation.
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, Lee wrote. The five original members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Thailand was on the front line, facing Vietnamese forces across its borders with Cambodia. [Then] General Prem was resolute in not accepting this, he added.
This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia(n) countries, and decisively shape(d) the course of the region, he concluded.
While Cambodian analysts said Lee’s remarks were factually correct, Phnom Penh officials made it clear they felt his account was not politically correct. The analysts said Lee’s post would be offensive to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was installed in 1985, during the era of the Vietnamese-controlled People’s Republic of Kampuchea.
He did not say the truth and his statement does not reflect history. It is not true because he said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, Defense Minister Tea Banh was quoted by the Khmer Times newspaper as saying on Monday. We wish for him to make corrections. It is not true.
The newspaper said Banh asked Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen to relay to Lee a Cambodian demand to change the statement.
We cannot accept what he said. Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people, Banh said. We still consider them as saviors � this means a lot for us.
January 7, 1979 was a second birthday; it is highly regarded by us, Banh added. We are grateful for what they did to help us.
Hun Sen’s son Hun Many, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, also weighed in on Facebook saying he was somewhat beyond surprised at Lee’s post.
I do understand the context and statement of historical facts that represent an angle of the situation, especially the political stance of some Southeast Asian Nations then, he wrote.
Whether it was a realist geopolitical or national interest perspective of the moment, one should not overlook nor forget the atrocities and crimes against humanity, especially genocide that were committed by the Khmer Rouge regime, wrote Hun Many.
By the same token the world should not forget how much Cambodians suffered then. Within the time span of 3 years 8 months and 20 days and because the world turned the blind eyes on us ‘Khmer’ that close to 3 million innocents victims died at the hand of the Khmer Rouge, he added.
Paris Peace Accord
Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Vu Minh Quang, also chimed in on Facebook, saying Invade or liberate. Occupy or protect. It does not matter (if) the cat is black or white.
Nothing forgotten. Nobody forgotten. This year 2019 we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge Genocide Regime. We put the past if full of pain and hatred behind, to look forward to the future, but it does not mean we have forsaken lessons of history, wrote the envoy.
Political commentator Em Sovannara defended Lee’s comment as factual, but said it was offensive to the regime of Hun Sen, who has ruled with an iron hand since 1985.
Look at the history. It was written as an invasion. It wasn’t a liberation, he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Another political commentator, Lao Mong Hay, said that, legally speaking, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and installed a government in Cambodia on Jan. 7, 1979.
Based on international law, it was an invasion by Vietnamese soldiers, he told RFA.
The pro-Hanoi Cambodian government formed in Phnom Penh in 1979 did not win recognition beyond the Soviet bloc.
Meanwhile, western countries and Asean states, wary of Vietnamese and Soviet designs in the region, backed a group of Cambodian resistance fighters, including elements of the deposed Khmer Rouge, which had close ties to China, another traditional foe of Vietnam. China invaded Vietnam briefly in 1979 in a failed attempt to force Hanoi to withdraw from Cambodia.
Nearly a decade of fighting throughout the 1980s, coupled with economic sanctions and international isolation of Vietnam, pressed Hanoi to withdraw its troops from Cambodia and sign the October 1991 Paris Peace Accord.
Em Sovannara and Lao Mong Hay both said the Paris Peace Accord, and not the Vietnamese-back regime’s foundation, should be the focus of Cambodian gratitude because it ended the Vietnamese occupation.
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