Cambodia resumes search for dead US troops year after suspending programme in visa spat

Prime Minister Hun Sen suspended the POW/MIA programme when Washington stopped issuing some visas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 10:09pm

Cambodia has agreed to resume a search effort with the United States for the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam war, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, after suspending the programme a year ago as tension rose between the two countries.

Prime Minister Hun Sen suspended the POW/MIA programme when Washington stopped issuing some visas after Cambodia refused to accept citizens deported from the United States following their convictions for crimes there.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann said Hun Sen had offered to resume cooperation in a letter on Friday to US Senator Doug Ericksen and Representative Vincent Buys.

“The letter talks to this itself, especially the words: it is the reflection of our deep empathy with the families,” Ket Sophann said.

Hun Sen said the search programme, which had run for 30 years until being suspended last year, would resume even though the visa curbs had “unjustly sanctioned” Cambodia.

“As we have discussed before, and at your personal request, as well as that made by other US organisations, my government, in the same compassionate spirit, agreed to resume this important POW/MIA field mission, regardless (of) the United States visa restriction in place,” Hun Sen wrote.

The US Embassy in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh declined to comment.

Hun Sen has said that the remains of half of the 80 American soldiers who went missing in Cambodia during the war in neighbouring Vietnam have been found.

Even after it ended in 1975, the Vietnam war remains an emotive issue in Cambodia.

Hun Sen’s ruling party won all 125 parliamentary seats in a July election the United Nations and Western countries have described as flawed after the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved over accusations of plotting to topple the government.

Hun Sen has accused the United States of plotting treason with opposition leader Kem Sokha, an accusation rejected by Washington.