Prime Minister Hun Sen joined leaders of Cambodia’s Cham Muslim population on Friday, rejecting accusations that some of the country’s Muslims had joined jihadists fighting in the Middle East.
Last month, a representative of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a militant group that is fighting in war-torn Iraq and Syria, claimed in a video that Cambodians had been recruited to their cause.
The Islamic community in Cambodia immediately dismissed the claims as spurious, and speaking at a Ramadan celebration Friday night, Mr. Hun Sen joined the cause, saying that Cham Muslims could not be called extremists.
“It is not applicable to Cambodian Muslims. I am a Buddhist person and I do not accept the use of the words ‘Muslim extremists,’” he said.
“Even if Cambodia also has a small extremist group too,” added the prime minister, in an apparent reference to the opposition CNRP.
At last night’s event, which was attended by about 1,250 Cambodian Muslims, Mr. Hun Sen also pledged government funds for an annual Ramadan feast. During Islam’s holiest month, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, when they break their fast with a meal called an iftar.
“For the budget that is needed to pay all the expenditure of a Cambodian Muslim iftar dinner, the state will be in charge,” he said.
The CPP enjoys widespread support among Cambodia’s minority Muslim population, which is estimated at about 400,000.
Many attribute the country’s freedom of religious expression to the tolerant stance of the ruling party.
Zul Kiply, 46, a Cham Muslim from Russei Keo district, said
she was happy to see the prime minister supporting the Muslim
“I am very happy to have participated in this Ramadan ceremony because it is the first time that Prime Minister Hun Sen has attended,” she said.
San Latin, 57, the leader of the Cham Muslim community in Kratie province, agreed.
“I support Samdech Hun Sen’s speech because he is a person who does not discriminate against Cambodian Muslims.”