SRP leader Sam Rainsy scolded Finance Minister Keat Chhon over his position in the Khmer Rouge regime while speaking on the floor of the National Assembly on Wednesday.
Keat Chhon responded that he will answer to the Cambodian people about his past if he is called upon to do so.
Sam Rainsy made his remarks after comparing the recent evictions of villagers from central Phnom Penh with the mass evacuation of the capital by the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. The only difference, he said, was that Pol Pot forced everyone to leave, while today’s authorities only target the poor.
“Excellency Keat Chhon, you may remember that when you were Pol Pot’s secretary and adviser, the regime forced all people out of the city,” Sam Rainsy said during the debate, which focused on the budget for 2007.
Keat Chhon responded that he had nothing to hide.
“If I, Keat Chhon, am called upon to answer to the Cambodian people and nation about my past, I will answer,” he told the Assembly.
Keat Chhon accused Sam Rainsy of attempting to provoke him but said his comments did not bother him.
The exchange on the floor of the Assembly was no more than a few minutes of a much larger discussion on the 2007 draft budget.
Speaking to reporters after the debate, Keat Chhon said Sam Rainsy’s verbal attack on him was personal.
“All the things I did, I will respond to history and the nation,” he told reporters.
“When [Sam Rainsy] can’t find anything to attack me on, he raises my personal life to attack me. It is wrong. It is not true…. We have the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia], let them judge.”
In 1975, Keat Chhon returned with then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk to Phnom Penh from China, where he had retreated after Lon Nol took power in 1970, according to Justin Corfield and Laura Summers’ “Historical Dictionary of Cambodia,” published in 2003.
He subsequently served as an interpreter and aide to Prime Minister Pol Pot and Deputy Prime Minister Ieng Sary, the book states. In 1977, he was a member of the Democratic Kampuchea delegation to the UN and in 1981 was appointed roving ambassador for the regime, the book states. Keat Chhon left the Khmer Rouge and in 1983 accepted a post with the UN Development Program in Zaire, according to the Historical Dictionary of Cambodia.
Lao Mong Hay, a senior researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, said he hopes that Keat Chhon will provide information to the ECCC.
“I applaud Sam Rainsy’s challenge to Keat Chhon. He succeeded in getting Keat Chhon to make that commitment to tell his story in public. It is good for the trial,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Erika Kinetz)