Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a letter to Washington state lawmakers that Cambodia will continue to assist the United States to recover the remains of its servicemen who went missing during the Vietnam War.
In the letter addressed to Doug Ericksen of the Washington State Senate and Vincent Buys of the Washington State House of Representatives on Friday, Mr Hun Sen responded to the wishes of both lawmakers who requested the reactivation of Cambodia’s prisoner of war/missing in action programme.
“As we have discussed before, and at your personal request, as well as that made by other US organisations, my government, in the same compassionate spirit, agrees to resume this important POW/MIA field mission, regardless of the US visa restrictions now in place,” Mr Hun Sen said. “The programme had been running successfully for more than 30 years before it was suspended after Cambodia was unjustly sanctioned.”
In September 2017, the US introduced a visa ban on Foreign Ministry officials after a row over the repatriation of Cambodians with criminal records.
The US issued further visa restrictions on high-ranking government officials following the arrest the former opposition leader Kem Sokha in September of last year.
Mr Hun Sen noted in the letter that he had initially declined requests to resume operations until the US resolved the visa restrictions.
Emily Zeeberg, a US Embassy information officer, said the embassy has not yet received any official statement from the Cambodian government.
“We have seen media reports noting a decision by the [Cambodian government] to resume humanitarian cooperation on POW/MIA issues,” Ms Zeeberg said. “But [we] have not yet received an official communication to that effect.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that resuming the POW/MIA programme is one way for the government to show good faith toward the US.
“The decision was based on the requests of the Washington state lawmakers,” Mr Eysan said. “It was a decision based on humanity and basic human rights.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said the move is a gesture to persuade the US to ease its sanctions.
“It can be seen as a small reconciliatory gesture to ease off the mounting pressure of sanctions on [Cambodia’s] leaders,” Mr Mong Hay said.
Mr Hun Sen has said in the past that a total of 90 US soldiers went missing in Cambodia during the Vietnam War in the 1970’s, while only 42 have been found so far.