Sixty Years of Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Cambodia

Posted by William J. Burns
July 18, 2010
Cambodian Fishermen Work on Wooden Boats Floating on Mekong River

About the Author: William J. Burns serves as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

One of the benefits of traveling abroad is you get to meet inspiring people like Mr. Youk Chhang.  A survivor of the former Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s, Mr. Chhang now runs the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an NGO that has been working tirelessly to document the history of the Khmer Rouge era. During my visit to Cambodia from July 17-18, he gave me a tour of Tuol Sleng, the notorious S-21 security prison of the Khmer Rouge, where an estimated 15,000 people were brutally tortured before being taken to the killing fields outside Phnom Penh.  It reminded me just how far the country has come since then, and I was inspired to see Cambodians dedication to rebuilding their country for the better.   

We have an opportunity to build upon the 60 years of diplomatic relations that Cambodia and the United States celebrate this month.  As Cambodia has made efforts to improve its democratic, economic and social development, our countries have developed a partnership that is stronger today than ever before.  The purpose of my visit was to discuss with Cambodian government officials, civil society members, and others how we might expand our cooperation in areas such as health, education, food security, and combating human trafficking.  In particular, we want to build on the U.S.-Lower Mekong Initiative that was launched a year ago by Secretary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.  I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen and reaffirm our commitment to Cambodia's development and prosperity.space At the same time, I stressed the importance of protecting human rights and supporting civil society for achieving those goals.  Continued progress in such areas will be key to Cambodia assuming the greater role on the world stage that it seeks. 

I saw how important that quest for transparency and justice is to the Cambodian people while visiting the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.  Continued support by the United States, including $5 million provided in financial support this year, has been critical to the Tribunal's preparations for its biggest challenge yet: the trials next year of the four most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.space Another stop at the National Counterterrorism Center showed how the United States is working with Cambodia to build its capacity to address terrorist threats.  My visit also coincided with the launch of Angkor Sentinel, a peacekeeping training exercise involving more than 20 countries hosted by Cambodia -- highlighting the significant contributions that Cambodian peacekeepers are making to international security.space Another highlight of my trip was a ceremony at the National Museum to repatriate seven Khmer cultural antiquities that had been smuggled from Angkor Wat to the United States.  Cooperation between U.S. and Cambodian law enforcement resulted in the rightful return of these national treasures, and demonstrated our commitment to helping Cambodia preserve its cultural heritage. 

We have a broad agenda before us with much work to do.  But we should be proud of our accomplishments to date, and I look forward to forward to building on that foundation in the years ahead to create an even stronger partnership with our Cambodian friends. 

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