Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said on Friday that he agreed with his Singaporean counterpart that the two Southeast Asian states remain “good neighbors” despite differing views over Vietnam’s role in Cambodia 40 years ago.
Sokhonn’s remarks came after he spoke with Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan discussed a flap over Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remarks on May 31 recalling Vietnam’s January 1979 invasion that expelled the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and decade-long occupation of Cambodia.
“Vivian said Lee Hsien Loong values the important relationship between Cambodia and Singapore and stated that he understand the suffering and pain of the people of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge,” Sokhonn said in statement.
“The two ministers stated that even though the two countries have different perspectives on history but the two countries will be good neighbors and will keep good communications,” the Cambodian statement said. There were no related remarks from Singapore or on Balakrishnan's Facebook or Twitter pages.
The row flared up after Lee expressed condolences to Thailand over the death last month 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.
On Thursday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Lee of showing “support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia.”
“His statement reveals to the Singaporean people and the world that leader of Singapore had indeed contributed to the massacre of Cambodian people,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook.
The Vietnamese invasion occupation of Cambodia ended Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which terrorized Cambodia from 1975-79, killing almost a quarter of the population.
Over the last decade of the Cold War, Western countries and Asean states, wary of Vietnamese and Soviet inroads, backed a coalition of Cambodian resistance fighters, including elements of the deposed Khmer Rouge, which had close ties to China, a rival of Moscow and foe of Hanoi. 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.
Cambodian analysts said Lee’s remarks were factually correct, but also raised very sensitive issues for Hun Sen.
The Cambodian strongman was once a junior Khmer Rouge official, but fled the movement as it fell apart. He was installed as head of Vietnamese-controlled People's Republic of Kampuchea in 1985, and has ruled the country ever since, banning the country’s opposition party in 2017 to create a de facto one-party state.
Political commentator Meas Ny told RFA’s Khmer Service that “Lee’s comment is right based on history textbooks, but the Cambodian government claim is also right because there was genocide at that time, so it helped end the genocide.”
In an RFA call-in show discussing the controversy on Friday, Yung Heng, a student of foreign affairs, said “Hun Sen’s government is defending the Vietnamese government because it installed them to power.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written by Paul Eckert.