Ambassador William Heidt made his third trek to Long Beach this week since his tenure as ambassador began in September 2015, and this year’s visit was bolder than the last.
According to Dr. Song Tan, who organized Heidt’s meeting with the broader Cambodian community, the turnout to meet the ambassador was “tremendous,” with 300-400 people in the audience.
Heidt, whose wife is Cambodian-American, has made it a priority to touch base with the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia, sharing ongoing issues occurring inside the country.
“He wanted to learn about Cambodia town,” said Tan, adding that usually Heidt just meets with a small group of people. “He gained input on things occurring in Cambodia, and briefed people on what was happening.”
Tan said unfair deportations, which have been occurring among the Southeast Asian population, were not discussed, as the agenda had been decided upon ahead of time.
“The focus was more on politics occurring within the country,” said Tan.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal has proposed legislation that addresses ongoing human rights abuses in the country, calling for an end to harassment of the opposition party of longtime President Hun Sen, as well as free and fair elections moving forward.
“Armed security forces have been deployed at the headquarters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in an attempt to arrest its deputy leader, Mr. Kem Sokha,” wrote Lowenthal in a joint statement with Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot in late May. “Upcoming elections in 2017 and 2018 will not be considered fair and free unless the current climate of fear and intimidation facing the political opposition in Cambodia comes to an end. We urge the Cambodian government to immediately cease all harassment of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and foster an environment where democracy can thrive and flourish.”
Lowenthal went on to discuss his push for free and fair elections:
“The Cambodian national elections in 2017 and 2018 will be crucial to determining the future of the country as well as its standing in the international community,” Lowenthal said in a statement. “This resolution demonstrates the United States’ support for an environment that respects political opposition, human rights, and the rule of law. All of these are necessary preconditions to holding elections in Cambodia that can be considered free and fair.”
Tan said the event was valuable for many community members, and proved Heidt’s rising star among the Cambodian-American population.
“He’s like a rock star,” said Tan lightheartedly. “People just want a piece of him.”
Above, left: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy Cambodia Facebook page.