PHNOM PENH, Cambodia Making history twice within hours, President Barack Obama on Monday became the first U.S. 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 has 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 the government he has led since the 1980s.
Indeed, Obama’s arrival in Cambodia lacked the euphoria of his greeting in Rangoon, Burma, where tens of thousands of people lined city streets to cheer the first American president to visit a country that had long been isolated from the West. “You gave us hope,” Obama declared in Rangoon.
In Phnom Penh, the sun was already setting by the time Air Force One landed. Small clusters of Cambodians gathered in the streets to watch the motorcade pass, but there was none of the outpouring that greeted Obama in Burma.
Speaking to a national audience from the University of Yangon, Obama offered a “hand of friendship” and a lasting U.S. commitment, yet a warning as well. He said the new civilian government must nurture democracy or watch it, and U.S. support, disappear.
The visit to Burma was the centerpiece of a four-day trip to Southeast Asia that began in Bangkok and will end Tuesday in Cambodia, where Obama will visit with Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asia leaders in addition to attending the East Asia Summit.
Obama celebrated the history of what he was witnessing in Burma: a nation shedding years of military rule, and a relationship between two nations changing fast.
“This remarkable journey has just begun,” he said.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.