Cambodian Prime Minister asks Vietnamese commander to apologize for his statement on COVID transmission

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke at an inauguration ceremony of a national highway in the country, in which he refuted the statement of the Commander of the Vietnamese Border Guard that COVID-19 spread from Cambodia to Vietnam.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has just rejected the statement of the commander of the Vietnam Border Guard about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic between the two countries and asked the general to make an apology, according to Cambodian media.

Mr. Hun Sen made a strong objection at an inauguration ceremony to put National Highway 11 into use in the country, according to a report by Cambodian news agency AKP published by Khmer Times on December 6.

The head of the Cambodian government, which has a border of more than 1,200km with Vietnam, said that COVID-19 “spread from Cambodia to Vietnam like the Mekong River is not true, but the opposite.”

In a video quoting Hun Sen’s speech posted by Khmer Times, the Cambodian prime minister mentioned the name “Ngo Xuan Chien” when rebutting the statement of the commander of the Vietnam Border Guard, who said that the pandemic spread from Cambodia to Vietnam. As he spoke, Mr. Hun Sen seemed uncertain about the name of the Vietnamese commander and turned to ask the officials sitting in the back. These people also nodded in agreement and repeated the name.

Mr. Hun Sen did not give specifics on when and in what context the Vietnamese commander made the statement. VOA calls to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s spokesman for further comment were not answered.

Cambodia’s prime minister said he “ask the official to be dismissed” but also sarcastically said that the Vietnamese commander had been “removed from two stars to three stars,” according to the Khmer Times.

The current commander of the Vietnam Border Guard is Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien, who is also a deputy defense minister. Chien was appointed to this post in July last year and three months later was promoted from lieutenant general to major general, according to domestic media.

Chien, when he was still a lieutenant general, last year chaired a conference to strengthen management, border protection, border control, and COVID-19 prevention and control on the Vietnam-Cambodia borders of the Vietnam Border Guard Command in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Saigon Giai Phong. Mr. Chien asked border guards in provinces bordering Cambodia to strengthen control of border gates while Vietnam experienced a COVID-19 outbreak caused by infections as people entered illegally across the border with Vietnam’s central provinces.

The whole Vietnam-Cambodia land border route is over 1,240km long, through 10 provinces – from Kon Tum to Kien Giang – with 10 international border gates, dozens of auxiliary border gates, and many openings. Most recently in May, according to the Ministry of Health, Vietnamese functional forces detained 21 people illegally entering through Dong Thap and An Giang provinces on the border with Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to the AKP, asked the Vietnamese commander to “send an apology to Cambodia” saying “this is an insult that I cannot accept.” Mr. Hun Sen said this prompted him to launch a campaign to immunize Cambodians with more than 88% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comment on the Cambodian Prime Minister’s rebuttal and apology to the Vietnamese commander.

However, Hun Sen, who was helped by Hanoi to come to power after defeating the Khmer Rouge in 1979, said his rebuttal to the Vietnamese commander’s statement “was not meant to divide Cambodia and Vietnam nor to break ties between the two countries,” according to Khmer Times. Prime Minister Hun Sen asserted that his reaction was not “to criticize the entire Vietnamese people, state or (Communist) Party,” but only aimed at the aforementioned commander. He said if the individual “corrects” what he considers “wrong” in the past, it will make him happy also. (Translated)