More academics have publicly criticised Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks referring to the Khmer Rouge regime, which murdered hundreds of thousands of their perceived political opponents. Ultimately, the Cambodian genocide led to the deaths of 1.5 to 3 million people, around 25 per cent of Cambodia’s population.
PM Lee drew harsh criticism from prominent Cambodians after he published a Facebook post on Friday (31 May). The post described a letter PM Lee had sent to his Thai counterpart to express his condolences on the passing of former Thai PM General Prem Tinsulanonda. In the post, PM Lee mentioned the Khmer Rouge. He wrote, in part:
“His leadership also benefited the region. His time as PM coincided with the ASEAN members (then five of us) coming together to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge. Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia.
“General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli, and worked with ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region.”
Earlier, Cambodian political analyst Leap Chanthavy accused PM Lee of being “disrespectful to Khmer Rouge victims”. In an op-ed published in major regional publication, Khmer Times, he wrote:
“What is striking is his view in denouncing the regime change that toppled the Khmer Rouge and denying legitimacy of the new Cambodian government that saved lives of the remaining four million Cambodians with support from the Vietnamese forces.”
He asserted that PM Lee’s view is “nothing but being disrespectful to the Khmer Rouge victims and those who sacrificed their lives in deposing the genocidal regime of Khmer Rouge.”
Another political analyst, Lao Mong Hay, went so far as to say that the Cambodian government should file a diplomatic complaint against the Singapore government.
He called on the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister to “summon the Singaporean ambassador to Cambodia to lodge our government’s protest about [Mr Lee’s] inappropriate and offensive remark.”
Noting that Mr Lee only focused on one angle of the complex situation involving Cambodia and Vietnam, historian Diep Sophal urged: “We should not look at just one angle in all of this. We must look at the role the Cold War played, with countries vying with each other to further their interests.”
Asserting that politicians in the period prioritised acting for the sake of their own nations, Sophal said:
“There is no doubt for me as to why the Singaporean prime minister said what he did regarding the presence of Vietnam [in Cambodia]. He said this to express his opposition to the presence of Vietnam in Cambodia because it affected the security of Thailand and Singapore as Vietnam was a powerful country.”
Another prominent Cambodian, Youk Chhang who is a director at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia said that PM Lee’s remarks indicate that it is necessary to implement an ASEAN peace and human rights education programme in the region, starting with Singapore. He told the Phnom Penh Post:
“There have been many developments recently to promote the respect for human rights in the region, including the Asean Convention on Counter Terrorism, the Asean Human Rights Declaration and the Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates.
“When you don’t learn from history, you seem very uncivilised in the modern world.”