Making history twice within hours, President Barack Obama became the first US president to set foot in Cambodia, a country once known for its Khmer Rouge “killing fields”.
He left behind flag-waving crowds on the streets of Burma, the once internationally shunned nation now showing democratic promise.
Unlike the visit to Burma, where Obama seemed to revel in that nation’s new hope, the White House made clear that Obama is only in Cambodia to attend an East Asia Summit and said the visit should not be seen as an endorsement of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.
Indeed, Obama’s arrival in Cambodia lacked the euphoria of his greeting in Burma, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets to cheer the first American president to visit a country that until recently had long been isolated from the West.
“You gave us hope,” Obama declared to the crowds. Obama addressed a national audience from the University of Rangoon, offering a “hand of friendship” and a lasting US commitment, yet a warning, too.
He said the new civilian government must nurture democracy or watch it, and US support, disappear.
The six-hour stop there was the centrepiece of a four-day trip to Southeast Asia that began in Bangkok and ends today in Cambodia, where Obama will visit with Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asia leaders in addition to attending the East Asia Summit with regional leaders.
Earlier Obama’s motorcade sped him to the lakeside home of longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He hugged her and lauded her as a personal inspiration.
Suu Kyi spent most of the past 20 years in house detention at her home.
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