A government spokesman yesterday applauded U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for criticizing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s role in the bombing of Cambodia in the 1970s, which Mr. Sanders said had paved the way for the Khmer Rouge to take power.
The Vermont senator made his comments during Thursday night’s U.S. Democratic presidential debate in Wisconsin, slamming his rival, Hillary Clinton, for seeking the support of Mr. Kissinger.
“Now I find it rather amazing because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Mr. Sanders said.
The senator then argued that Mr. Kissinger had aided the rise of Pol Pot with his decision to carpet bomb Cambodia in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and to back the Lon Nol government.
“In fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people—one of the worst genocides in the history of the world,” he said.
In fact, approximately 1.7 million people died during the Khmer Rouge regime, with only about half of those deaths violent, according to a report compiled by demographer Ewa Tabeau for the Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2009.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers and a U.S. citizen, praised Mr. Sanders’ jab at Ms. Clinton, a former secretary of state herself.
“I totally agree with Sanders. That foreign policy was what the Cambodians remember. At that time, the bombardment was more than in the Second World War,” Mr. Siphan said.
“If there was no bombardment, if a solution was found peacefully—not the use of violence against the Cambodian nation—the Khmer Rouge would have not jumped into power. The Cambodian people supported the Khmer Rouge because of the bombardment, because of the violence, because of the policy of the United States,” he said.
“Kissinger has a big part to blame —not just blame, but full responsibility for the 3 million people that were killed by the Khmer Rouge.”