In a Facebook post on May 31, Prime Minister Lee expressed condolences on the passing of former Thai PM and President of the Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, who he said served at the time five ASEAN members came 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,”Excerpt from PM Lee’s post
Le Thi Thu Hang, spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Vietnam “regrets” that the statement did not reflect history objectively, causing negative public opinions. Hang said the ministry has discussed with Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the matter.
Vietnam’s role in ending the Khmer Rouge genocide
On December 25, 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Kampuchea and subsequently occupied the country and removed the Communist Party of Kampuchea government from power.
Almost 4 decades later, the U.N.-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia found two leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide.
In the 3 years of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia, an estimated 1.8 – 2.5 million people died from torture, mass executions, forced labor, and disease – nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
Cambodian Government officials rebut PM Lee’s remarks
Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh and Cambodian People’s Party legislator Hun Many have both rebutted PM Lee’s remarks.
“We cannot accept what he said. We have already clarified that Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people. We wanted to be saved from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rogue. The help came in form of the Cambodian People’s Party with the assistance of our neighboring country’s Vietnam.””-Defense Minister Tea Banh
In addition, the Khmer Times, Cambodia’s leading English newspaper released a fiery op-ed denouncing PM Lee’s “disrespectful comments”.
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.-Excerpt from Khmer Times op-ed
The op-ed went on to denounce the Singapore Government for its historic role in recognizing and providing military assistance to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Singapore recognised the Pol Pot regime as legitimate and established diplomatic relations on May 6 1976.
When the Khmer Rouge was ousted in 1978 by the Vietnamese, Singapore was the first Southeast Asian country that offered to provide military assistance to guerrilla forces to fight against the new puppet regime installed by Vietnam.