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Hun Sen Resurrects United States’ Backing of Khmer Rouge at International Forum

In this file photo taken on Oct. 4, 2019, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks with media during a news conference at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday again made references to the United States’ support for the Khmer Rouge-led Democratic Kampuchea to retain its seat in the United Nations, even after Vietnamese-backed forces had unseated the guerilla outfit from Phnom Penh.

The prime minister was speaking at the 2nd Asia Pacific Summit in Phnom Penh and highlighted Cambodia’s progress following the devastations of the genocide in the late 1970s. He questioned the democratic credentials of countries who first supported a military coup led by Lon Nol and then backed the Khmer Rouge by helping it retain its seat at the UN.

“Some countries say they are democratic but they have supported military coups,” he said, addressing foreign dignitaries at the forum. “They say they respect human rights, but have supported genocide and the killers to have seat in UN.”

Both were thinly-veiled references to the United States. Hun Sen has frequently made such references to U.S. foreign policy in the region, even accusing the country, more recently, of backing an alleged color revolution in the Cambodia following the 2013 national election.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the prime minister’s speech was only referencing historical events and was only meant to be informative for the forum’s audience.

“That is history. The U.S. nowadays is different from the U.S. of the past,” he said. “It wants to have a good relationship with Cambodia now.”

However, political observers said the prime minister’s raking up of the United States and Khmer Rouge could be to distract from his government’s proximity to China.

Elizabeth Becker, a former Post war correspondent in Cambodia, said Hun Sen was using U.S. foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s to project it negatively and to distract from his government’s geopolitical leanings.

“Hun Sen wants to distract from his total dependence on China,” she said, in an email. “He wants to change the conversation because so many Cambodians are angry at the power China now has in their country.”

Political commentator Lao Mong Hay expressed a similar opinion, adding that making linking the Khmer Rouge and the United States was to just make the latter look bad.

“The U.S. back then supported the Khmer Rouge, who was the bad guy. So, the U.S. is bad,” he said.