The participation of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son in next month’s Cambodian New Year’s Parade that touched off a raucous protest outside last Tuesday’s city council meeting was officially called off Sunday morning, as Hun Manet posted his intentions to pull out of his commitment to the parade after hearing news of the demonstration.
In his post, Manet said he was canceling his plans to be part of the parade because he didn’t want to see a “conflict break out between Khmer and Khmer” that could potentially lead to violence between those who supported his visit and those who did not.
“Khmer New Year is a special occasion for our Khmer people and should unite us in a desire to support our race by working together to show the Khmer culture and civilization to the American people and other citizens,” Manet said. “It is not the time for supporters and non-supporters to show off their muscles, because it shows a break between Khmer and Khmer and gives our race a bad reputation.”
Manet had been invited to be part of the April 10 parade by the Cambodian Coordinating Council (Cam CC) which is charged with the organization of the parade and other events in the Cambodian community.
The potential for his inclusion in the parade was an extremely divisive issue in the community with some believing that it could serve a useful purpose by creating a dialogue with someone widely believed to be the country’s next prime minister, while a much larger and more vocal contingent of the community felt it was insulting to invite the son of a dictator that helped the Khmer Rouge slaughter so many of their ancestors and countrymen.
His father, Sen, has served as the country’s prime minister since 1998 and has earned the reputation as a dictator that uses force to silence his political opponents. Several members of the Cambodian community testified in front of the council last week that Manet’s visit would only serve to open old wounds left over from those that survived the Killing Fields and that it would be met by protests.
The pleas elicited some emotional responses from members of the council with several vowing not to attend the event if Manet was indeed going to be part of the festivities.
The Cambodian American Alliance, one of the groups that had planned to disrupt the parade—along with other coordinated efforts in Massachusetts and Washington state—embraced Manet’s cancellation of participating in the parade, but also dismissed his rationale as common communist tactics.
“We welcome the news of his decision to not participate in the parade as the people have spoken against him,” said the group’s president, Vibol Touch, in a statement. “He must understand that we are no longer accepting any form of his father’s iron fist rule. His presence in the parade would mean to completely ignore the suffering our people are going through and legitimizing a Hun Dynasty.”
While Manet’s visit to the United States is scheduled to go on as planned, it’s unclear if his itinerary will still include Long Beach.
Prach Ly, an activist, rapper and founder of the Cambodia Town Film Festival is hopeful that he will because he’s received permission for a taped interview with Manet during his visit. He was granted approval for the interview request this weekend by Cambodian dignitaries and it will be recorded by VOA Khmer, a Cambodian media outlet.
Ly, a former board member of the Cam CC, was one of those supporting Manet’s visit because he believes that it was wrong to attribute his father’s bloodshed and policies to his son.
“People want to have open dialogues because he might be the next prime minister and if he does they want to see if their words can influence him in some form to help benefit the future of Cambodia,” Ly said.
As for his interview and what questions he might ask the presumptive next prime minister of Cambodia, Ly was guarded, stating that he was still formulating questions but was interested to see what his politics might look like. He noted that Manet is a smart man, evidenced by his graduation from West Point in 1995, but added that his father is the polar opposite. Opening the dialogue he compared to the post Cold War era between the US and the former Soviet Union, something that needs to be done even if there are still hard feelings.
“America doesn’t want to talk to Russia but we still have an open dialogue,” Ly said. “It’s the least we can do to communicate on what can be done for the people and for the safety of both country’s children.”