Fiery, vocal crowd rejects Lowell-Cambodia sister-city motions
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The Cambodian-American community came out to the April 25, 2023 City Council meeting to speak out against motions to establish sister-city relationships between Lowell and Battambang and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The motions were withdrawn after the motion sponsors failed to find a second to move it forward for approval. Mayor Sokhary Chau reads a statement in support of his motions.(Melanie Gilbert/Lowell Sun)By MELANIE GILBERT | email@example.com |PUBLISHED: April 26, 2023 at 5:39 p.m. | UPDATED: April 26, 2023 at 5:45 p.m.
LOWELL — The city’s Cambodian diaspora came out in force to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to speak out against two motions seeking to establish possible sister-city agreements between Lowell and the Cambodian cities of Battambang and Phnom Penh.
Both motions were withdrawn when it became clear that a second from another councilor to move the motion to the floor for vote would not be forthcoming. Councilor Vesna Nuon requested that the speakers be allowed to address the body regardless.
“I know that the motion has failed, Mr. Mayor,” he said addressing the city’s first mayor of color and the nation’s first Cambodian-American mayor, Sokhary Chau. “However, to be fair, there are people here who wish to speak.”
Both motions were submitted by Cambodian-American councilors, who appeared to misjudge the depth of feeling toward the government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who assumed power nearly 40 years ago.
The first motion, co-sponsored by Chau and Councilor Paul Ratha Yem, asked the city manager to have the Law Department provide a report regarding the establishment of a sister-city agreement with Phnom Penh, referencing a memorandum of understanding signed on Jan. 14, 2015.
The second motion, by Chau, asked the city manager and/or the appropriate department to begin the process to establish a sister-city agreement with Battambang.
Eng Chhai Eang came to the podium with Mu Sochua. He previously was a member of the Cambodian Parliament and is a vice president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, a major opposition party to the Hun Sen regime. He remains exiled from his homeland, and lives in Lowell.
Sochua, who acted as his interpreter, was also a member of the Cambodian Parliament from Battambang and is second vice president of the CNRP. She is a former minister of women’s and veterans’ affairs.
“I lost my seat because the Hun Sen government took it away,” Chhai Eang said in Khmer to a hushed crowd. “I am here as a victim of regime of Hun Sen. I am here to speak against the establishment of agreement of Battambang and Phnom Penh as Lowell sister city.”
He described a political system in Cambodia in which mayors are not elected directly by the people, but are chosen and appointed by Hun Sen.
“The government in Cambodia do not work according of the people,” he said through Sochua. “Therefore, if you in Lowell agree to establish sister city with any city in Cambodia, you are then serving the regime in Cambodia. The Cambodian regime considers me as a terrorist, but America accepts me as a free man. I thank you for not considering this motion.”
Thunderous applause greeted his remarks.Read more…