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In US, Defense Minister Drops by a Pagoda

WATCH VIDEO, reported by Poch Reasey,

PHOTO SLIDESHOW, by Taing Sarada.

Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh said he was happy to see Cambodians in America adhering to old traditions, as he visited a pagoda in Maryland on Sunday for Pchum Ben.

Tea Banh is in Washington for talks with his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in meetings unprecedented since the 1970s. He was scheduled to meet Gates on Monday, to strengthen to growing ties between the two militaries.

However, the visit has been darkened by concerns from US congressmen that US military aid could benefit the bodyguard unit of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which Human Rights Watch has accused of rights violations.

On Sunday, though, the general was celebrating Pchum Ben along with Cambodians at home.

“This is a first time for me to see such a big gathering of our Cambodian people in a very good pagoda like this,” the general said. “I am so proud to see our Cambodian people, who are living away from home, still organizing such a big ceremony. It is very impressive.”

Pchum Ben is an annual celebration of deceased ancestors in Cambodia, and the US pagoda visit was arranged by Cambodian Ambassador Hem Heng and other diplomats.

“I am so happy to be here with our Khmer people,” Tea Banh said. “I am so excited to be in time for the last day of Pchum Ben. The ceremony here is like in Cambodia.”