Defence Minister General Tea Banh and a CPP lawmaker have lashed out at Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for accusing Vietnamese troops of invading Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
In a letter posted on his official Facebook page on May 31 and sent to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Mr Lee expressed his condolences on the passing of former Thai Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda.
“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,” Mr Lee wrote. “Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its borders with Cambodia. [Then] General Prem was resolute in not accepting this […]. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia countries, and decisively shape the course of the region.”
Mr Lee noted his predecessor and Gen Prem opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and denied legitimacy to Heng Samrin’s government in the 1980s.
Gen Banh, who returned from a security summit in Singapore on Monday night, said he spoke about Mr Lee’s statement with Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
At Phnom Penh International Airport, Gen Banh said he asked Mr Ng to inform Mr Lee to rectify the statement.
“He [Mr Lee] did not say the truth and his statement does not reflect history. It is not true because he said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia,” he said on Monday night. “We wish for him to make corrections. It is not true.”
Gen Banh then questioned Mr Lee on why he did not refer to the United States’ bombing campaign of Cambodia as an invasion.
“If we talk about history, one thing he did not talk about was the Indochina war and how US troops dropped millions of bombs, invaded and occupied the region – why don’t you say something about that?” he said.
Gen Banh said Mr Lee’s statement was “unacceptable”, noting that if Heng Samrin’s forces did not ally with the Vietnamese, Cambodians would not have survived.
“We cannot accept what he said. Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people,” he said. “We still consider them as saviours – this means a lot for us.”
“January 7, 1979 was a second birthday; it is highly regarded by us,” Gen Banh added. “We are grateful for what they did to help us.”
CPP lawmaker Hun Many on Friday said he was “beyond surprised” over Mr Lee’s statement.
“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 was committed by the Khmer Rouge Regime,” Mr Many said. “The world should not forget how much Cambodians suffered then. The world turned a blind eye on us Khmers. Close to three million innocent victims died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.”
“While everyone was playing politics, Cambodians prayed [for help], we wanted to be saved from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge,” he added. “The help came in the form of the CPP with assistance from our neighbouring country, Vietnam.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said the government should file a diplomatic complaint against the Singaporean government.
“It would be more proper and more effective if our Foreign [Affairs] Minister was to summon the Singaporean ambassador to Cambodia to lodge our government’s protest about [Mr Lee’s] inappropriate and offensive remark,” Mr Mong Hay said.
Political analyst Leap Chanthavy earlier this week said Mr Lee’s statement was “disrespectful” toward Khmer Rouge victims.
“His view was inherited from his father former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who was resolutely against the Vietnamese intervention,” Ms Chanthavy said. “Singapore regarded Vietnam as a mini hegemon who was a proxy of the Soviet Union in their endeavour to impose communism to the region.”