Prime Minister Hun Sen today called on the US Embassy to clarify its position on detained opposition leader Kem Sokha after US Ambassador William Heidt said on Tuesday that allegations of the United States helping him push for regime change were made without a “shred of serious or credible evidence”.
The premier also asked the ambassador to provide strong reasons why the US Embassy issued a travel warning on the eve of the Pchum Ben holidays.
“Are Kem Sokha’s words right? We did not implicate the US first, but it was Kem Sokha who implicated the US role in causing regime change in [the former] Yugoslavia and Serbia,” Mr Hun Sen said when he addressed a large gathering of workers at Veng Sreng Boulevard.
“Is it true or not? Does Kem Sokha accuse the US or the US accuse Kem Sokha? Please US Ambassador clarify clearly this issue,” added Mr Hun Sen.
Mr Sokha was last week charged with treason over comments made in 2013 video footage from Australia-based CBN news, which showed him saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
US Ambassador Heidt at a press conference said: “To be honest, I wasn’t totally surprised when I learned this unfortunate news. But I was surprised by the allegations against the United States in connection with Mr Sokha’s arrest, made without a shared of serious or credible evidence.”
The premier said Mr Sokha recognised it himself that “no one forced him to say that the US was helping him for regime change”.
“Does this person just get an order from the US, like that? Is Kem Sokha just lying?” Mr Hun Sen said.
Commenting on events in the 1970s that led to the emergence of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, Mr Hun Sen said the US instructed General Lon Nol to stage a coup to overthrow Father King Norodom Sihanouk in March, 1970 when the king was away in China.
Mr Hun Sen also hit out at the travel warning issued by the US Embassy on Wednesday, urging all US citizens in Cambodia to exercise caution and added “demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence without warning”.
Mr Hun Sen asked the ambassador if he had evidence over an impending terrorist attack or any other attacks on Cambodia.
“Why does His Excellency want to frighten Cambodians who are happy to celebrate the Pchum Ben Day holidays,” Mr Hun said, demanding a clarification from the US Ambassador.
“Cambodia has no intention of making trouble with US, but US should not look at Cambodia in a bad way,” added the premier.
“Cambodian people must stand up for nationalism and protect the country’s sovereignty against interference from foreign countries,” Mr Hun Sen reiterated.
Commenting on the US visa bans for officials in a feud over the repatriation of people of Cambodian-origin convicted of crimes in the United States, Mr Hun Sen confirmed that the kingdom was forced to sign a 2002 agreement to take them back, in exchange for “non-imposing visa restrictions” for Cambodians wanting to travel to the US.
Mr Hun Sen pointed out that among 566 deportees that arrived in Cambodia, four committed suicide.
“We did not terminate the agreement, but we asked for discussing how to move forward to amend it,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
The premier added that the country was also preparing to send officials from the Interior Ministry to interview the last 26 Cambodians waiting to be deported from the US, before the US imposed visa sanctions on Cambodia.
“The US terminated the 2002 agreement unilaterally. In response, Cambodia told the US that the cooperation on finding the missing remains of US soldiers [Vietnam War American servicemen] would be temporarily suspended,” Mr Hun Sen said.
He added that there were 90 US soldiers missing in Cambodia while only 42 were found.
“We declared that we did not terminate the cooperation, but temporarily suspended it,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that the cooperation would continue once the US removes its visa sanction on Cambodia.
Arend C Zwartjes, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia and the US have consistently enjoyed very strong cooperation on POW/MIA recovery efforts, which has won Cambodia much gratitude in the United States.
“As a result of this cooperation, the United States has been able to identify and repatriate the remains of 42 personnel missing from the Indochina conflict,” Mr Zwartjes said.
“The Ambassador noted this morning that today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2017 in the United States of America, and that Cambodia’s suspension of cooperation will certainly draw a lot of attention,” he added.