VN Heroic, Hun Sen Says

Prime Minister Hun Sen praised Vietnam on Monday for liberating Cambodia from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and reminded Western powers now pushing to try the regime’s one-time leaders that the rest of the world once sat on the sidelines.

“Anyone who demands Khmer Rouge trials has to recognize the bravery of the Vietnamese soldiers who gave their lives for the Cam­bodian people,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen has often condemned Western nations and the UN for adhering to Cold War politics and supporting the Khmer Rouge after the regime was ousted by the Vietnamese in 1979. Mon­day’s comments came during what observers say are stalled negotiations between the UN and the government on how to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.

In a one-hour meeting with visiting Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Hun Sen reportedly said Cambodia is still grateful to the Vietnamese for ousting the Khmer Rouge, which is blamed for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979.

But 21 years later, Vietnam has made it clear—in official press reports and statements—that it does not support a UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal. The Vietnamese government sponsored a trial in 1979 of the two top Khmer Rouge leaders, but the West quickly deemed it a show trial.

“If Vietnam is sincere about its position that they were liberating Cambodia, they would think it was important to have a Khmer Rouge tribunal,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “Now they have a different position on that.”

The Vietnamese leader met Hun Sen to sign an agreement on accounting, exhuming and repatriating the remains of Vietnamese army volunteers killed in Cambodia.

“We do not have a specific figure,” Hun Sen said when asked how many Vietnamese soldiers were killed in Cambodia during the region’s decades of war. “But what I can say is that even if it is one person, two persons or 10,000 soldiers or more, they made a sacrifice to save the lives of the Cambodian people and deserve to be taken home.”

Thousands of Vietnamese soldiers were killed in Cambodia during the US war in Indochina, under Khmer Rouge rule and throughout Vietnam’s 10-year occupation of Cambodia that ended in 1989.

Earlier Monday, Cambodian and Vietnamese officials laid a wreath and paid homage to war veterans at a memorial erected in Phnom Penh by Vietnam during the occupation.

A small group of about 10 anti-Vietnam student protesters gathered in front of the Royal Palace, about 400 meters from the memorial. They carried banners and cartoons depicting Vietnamese fishermen in Cambodian waters and a man boiling tea water with Cambodian human heads underneath as fuel for cooking.

They also read a statement over a loudspeaker accusing Vietnam of border encroachment and calling for Vietnamese immigrants to go home.

“We are protesting today to demand the Hanoi government to stop immediately its invasion of Cambodian territory and nullify agreements made in 1979 and the 1980s between Hanoi and its Phnom Penh puppet,” said Pho Boramei, a protester and member of a political student group.

He said border agreements signed by Hun Sen with the Vietnamese government during Hun Sen’s years as a young foreign minister under the Hanoi-installed government relinquished Cambodian land to Vietnam.

Hun Sen and Nguyen Tan Dung also witnessed the signing of two other agreements on agriculture, fisheries and health. They were not scheduled to discuss alleged border encroachments.

The Vietnamese delegation is to depart for Siem Reap on Wednesday morning.

(Additional reporting by DPA)



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