Cambodian PM calls on US to withdraw Peace Corps
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United States on Friday to withdraw Peace Corps volunteers in an escalating row over accusations that US agents conspired with an opposition leader to plot treason.
This comes a day after Hun Sen suspended cooperation with the US to find the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.
Hun Sen’s Peace Corps directive was a response to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh issuing a travel warning that urged citizens to show caution amid “antiAmerican rhetoric by officials.”
“Are you [US] scaring Cambodians?” Hun Sen said in an address to garment workers at factories that export much of their production to North America. “Are you prepared to invade Cambodia and that’s why you told Americans to be careful? It’s good if you pull out the Peace Corps.”
The US Embassy, which on Friday swore in 71 new Peace Corps volunteers, declined to comment. It has previously dismissed the accusations of collusion with opposition leader Kem Sokha. Hun Sen said on Friday that he had ordered an investigation into whether any Americans were involved with Kem Sokha.
Opponents of Hun Sen accuse him of arresting Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha and cracking down on independent media and other critics ahead of a general election next year. The evidence against Kem Sokha was a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of unspecified Americans.
Hun Sen, a close ally of China, has taken a series of measures against US interests this year from ending joint military exercises to expelling a naval aid unit to forcing a US-funded pro-democracy group to leave.
According to the US Embassy, more than 500 Peace Corps volunteers have worked in Cambodia since 2006, providing English teaching, teacher training and community health education.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen said on Thursday he was suspending cooperation with the US to find the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.
“The search cooperation is postponed until a number of issues are resolved between Cambodia and the United States,” he said, adding that a total of 80 American soldiers had gone missing in Cambodia during the war in neighboring Vietnam and that half of them had been found.
The Vietnam War that ended in 1975 remains an emotive issue in Cambodia.
Hun Sen says the US has never apologized for its role in bombing his country to try to kill Vietnamese communist guerrillas and should forgive debts built up by a pro-US junta that ruled until it was ousted by the genocidal Khmer Rouge.