Cambodia’s Diplomat, Who Survived the Khmer Rouge, Tried to Get Ukraine and Russia to Talk About Peace

“I became a diplomat by accident,” Cambodia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sophea Eat, said. Yet her rise in the world of diplomacy is also a story of survival, hard work and resilience.

Eat, 58, sat down with PassBlue at the Cambodian mission to the UN in New York City on a warm morning in August. In a nearby cupboard, a roneat, a traditional Cambodian instrument, seemed to witness the discussion. Eat was wearing a long, traditional silk-embroidered skirt paired with an elegant dark green blouse.

Eat was born in Phnom Penh, the capital, and spent her first years in the Prey Veng Province in southeast Cambodia, close to the Vietnamese border. Her father, Lyheng Eat, served in the provincial government. Everything changed in 1970, when Eat was 7, and a coup sparked the country’s descent into civil war. The family moved to the capital, where Eat’s mother, Souneang Vann, started a small business. In 1975, the city fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Days earlier, Eat’s mother had traveled to Thailand on business. She wasn’t able to get home. Eat never saw her again.

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