Prime Minister Hun Sen took the US Embassy to task yesterday for posting an image of a red herring on its Facebook page while it pointed to American contributions to saving temples and protecting forests.
In his latest broadside against the US, he asked a graduation ceremony yesterday: “Why did they post a fish, and then go on to talk about other things?”
Mr Hun Sen accused the US of acting as if it believed it was Cambodia’s parents, but did not expand on his comments about the embassy post.
On Friday, the embassy posted a picture of the fish with a caption “Red Herrings KH” without saying anything else.
On Sunday, the fish and “Red herrings KH” caption appeared with a picture of forests. Added to the caption were the words: “What does the United States do in Cambodia? We save forests.”
The post said the US was working to stop the loss of forests which helped Cambodia improve land management and preserve more than 2.6 million hectares of woodland.
It said the US had trained and equipped hundreds of forest rangers to stop illegal loggers.
Yesterday, the embassy added to its Facebook page a reference to its work saving temples.
The US had given more than $4 million in recent years to help Cambodia save its cultural treasures, including the Phnom Bakheng temple, it said.
Mr Hun Sen and the embassy have been at odds over the Prime Minister’s accusations of US interference in Cambodia’s affairs and the embassy’s questioning of opposition leader Kem Sokha’s arrest.
Mr Hun Sen has accused the US of being a “third hand”, helping the opposition CNRP to invoke regime change.
The US State Department noted the arrest “on a number of charges that appear to be politically motivated” with grave concern.
However the Prime Minister said the statement defended their puppet, Mr Sokha.
Mr Sokha was charged with conspiring with a foreign power after video footage emerged of him telling supporters the US government had been helping him push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
Asked about Mr Sokha’s claim of US support, the embassy declined to comment. It declined also to comment on its red herring posts.
Mr Hun Sen’s comments yesterday were made to thousands of graduating students.
He said issues surrounding the US dropping of about 2.7 million tonnes of bombs had not been resolved.
“They fought us and then demanded our money,” Mr Hun Sen said, referring to the civil war in the 1970s and the US request for repayment of $500 million in war loans from the period.
He said the US was a destroyer and ringleader. Its followers, referring to Mr Sokha, were in Cambodia, he added.
Legal professor and political analyst Sao Deluxe said the government and US embassy were engaged in a war of words over the issue of interference.
The Sokha arrest, closure of the National Democratic Institute and media outlets created political tension, he said, while the US was trying to change the nature of the debate.
“They do not want more tension between the Cambodian people and the US government,” he said.
“The US embassy is trying to show that it helps and gives advantages to Cambodia.”
Mr Deluxe said the US did not fear confrontation with the government, but could be accused of pushing for regime change if it increased tensions up until election day.
“The red herring is a campaign, and there will be more postings,” he said.
If the US built on the red herring theme and pointed to other issues in which America helped Cambodia, it would mean the US was creating serious tension, equivalent to targetting the Cambodian government, he said.
Asked about the US refusal to respond to questions on whether it supported the CNRP over regime change, Mr Deluxe said there would be no benefit to the US in responding.
If the US denied giving support, it would create controversy, but if it agreed, it would be accepting it was at fault, he said.
“Not responding was the best choice to make in an uncertain situation and does not lead to the conclusion that the US is behind regime change,” he said.