Cam­bo­dia of­fers help in search for miss­ing sol­diers

Gulf Times - - ASIA/AUSTRALASIA -

Cam­bo­dian leader Hun Sen has of­fered to re­sume work­ing with a US pro­gramme that re­cov­ers the re­mains of Amer­i­can sol­diers killed dur­ing the Viet­nam War, as the premier seeks to defuse crit­i­cism of a flawed elec­tion.

Hun Sen stated his in­ten­tion to restart the “im­por­tant” mis­sion in a let­ter pub­lished on gov­ern­ment mouth­piece Fresh News Satur­day and also shared on his of­fi­cial Face­book page.

It was ad­dressed to two US state law­mak­ers who vis­ited Cam­bo­dia ahead of the vote ear­lier this year and who this month had writ­ten to Hun Sen about re­ac­ti­vat­ing the project.

The searches, which have re­cov­ered the re­mains of 42 Amer­i­can ser­vice­men in Cam­bo­dia – dozens are still un­ac­counted for – were sus­pended in Septem­ber 2017 as re­la­tions soured be­tween the two coun­tries.

Hun Sen halted it af­ter Wash­ing­ton stopped is­su­ing visas to se­nior Cam­bo­dian of­fi­cials in reprisal for the coun­try tem­po­rar­ily re­fus­ing to take in Cam­bo­dian na­tion­als de­ported from the US for com­mit­ting crimes.

He had also ac­cused the US of as­sist­ing an op­po­si­tion leader who was charged with treason, claims the am­bas­sador at the time called ab­surd.

The rise in ten­sions came dur­ing the lead-up to a flawed vote in July that was swept by Hun Sen’s party af­ter the Supreme Court dis­solved the main op­po­si­tion.

But af­ter se­cur­ing vic­tory, the 66-year-old strong­man re­quested par­dons for ac­tivists and op­po­si­tion mem­bers who had been ar­rested in a crack­down on dis­sent be­fore the bal­lot.

An­a­lysts say Hun Sen is try­ing to ward off pos­si­ble con­se­quences such as po­ten­tial trade sanc­tions by the Euro­pean Union, though he has bris­tled at sug­ges­tions that he is un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure.

The pro­gramme “had been run­ning suc­cess­fully for more than 30 years, be­fore it was sus­pended”, Hun Sen said in his let­ter, adding that his gov­ern­ment would restart co-op­er­at­ing with the mis­sion with a “com­pas­sion­ate spirit”.

Amer­ica’s se­cret bomb­ing of Cam­bo­dia dur­ing the Viet­nam War re­mains a sen­si­tive sub­ject and is a touch­stone of fiery speeches by Hun Sen.

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