The National Assembly on Tuesday urged the Ministry of Defense to seek compensation for Cambodian victims of Agent Orange, a military defoliant used by the US Army during the war in Vietnam—just days after the US blasted the Assembly for stripping the immunity of three opposition lawmakers.
Speaking in the Assembly, senior CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap blasted the US for bombing Cambodia and for reportedly spraying Agent Orange on Cambodian soil in the 1960s and ’70s.
“In order to protect our people’s health from the long-term impact of Agent Orange, we have to ask the perpetrator [the US] to solve the problem,” Cheam Yeap said.
Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San agreed, urging co-Defense Minister Tea Banh to demand compensation from the US.
“Those who hampered our people’s lives, our natural resources, ask whether they have apologized or compensated us yet,” Khieu San said.
During the Assembly session, which was boycotted by Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, parliamentarians ratified a UN Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, which had been shelved for years.
Though Cambodia signed the treaty in 1993, it has never been brought before the Assembly.
Tea Banh told the Assembly that his ministry will set up a committee to study the impact of Agent Orange on people living in the nine provinces bordering Vietnam.
“After the ratification, we have enough rights to demand [compensation],” he said.
Some 173,000 hectares of forest in Kompong Cham province were reportedly sprayed with Agent Orange in April and May 1969.
In Vietnam, the toxic herbicide may have caused the malformation of thousands of Vietnamese children, stillbirths and cancer-related illnesses and deaths.
A spokesperson at the US Embassy said Tuesday that the embassy has never received an official request for compensation from Cambodia and could not comment further on the issue.
Last week, the US Embassy and US State Department issued strong statements condemning the Assembly’s decision to strip the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his fellow lawmakers Cheam Channy and Chea Poch.
Senior US Senator John McCain, a long-time critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, has called for donors to consider sanctions against Cambodia.
The Assembly’s decision to strip the lawmakers of their immunity allows the courts to pursue several lawsuits launched by Funcinpec against Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch for allegedly defaming Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Both Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch have since fled the country.
Cheam Channy, who faces accusations of forming an illegal armed force, was arrested Thursday after the Assembly session and remains detained in Military Court.
The British Embassy last week also expressed concern over the lifting of the parliamentarians’ immunity, while on Monday, the office of UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht demanded that their immunity be restored.
Following the Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Hun Sen declined to speak to reporters about the immunity issue.
“This is a court case. I will not talk,” he said.
Assembly First Deputy President Heng Samrin, who is also honorary president of the CPP, said it was up to the courts to decide whether the opposition lawmakers’ immunity should be restored.
“This is the court’s responsibility. The National Assembly will restore their immunity if the courts find they are innocent,” he said.