Chhang Song sidelined with health problems in Long Beach

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chhang Song, ex-Lon Nol regime minister, ex-CPP senator, renominated as CPP advisor in 2007 (Photo: The Phnom Penh Post)

Cambodian diplomat sidelined with health problems in Long Beach

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram

LONG BEACH - Song Chhang had hoped to be celebrating this weekend in Washington D.C.

He certainly didn't expect to be in a bed in a nursing facility considering his life and wondering what the future holds.

"I still have so many things to do," the 72-year-old says wistfully.

There are stories yet to tell. He wants to see how things turn out in his Cambodian homeland. But now, he just doesn't know.

Chhang is a prominent if rather low-key Cambodian in Long Beach. He is French and American educated, the former Minister of Information for Lon Nol's government during the Cambodian civil war. In the United States he helped craft the legislation that paved the way for 150,000 refugees to flee Cambodia after the fall of Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge regime, under which upwards of 2 million Cambodians died.

He returned to Cambodia around 1994 and was part of the Cambodian People's Party until he was ousted in the late 1990s.

This weekend, Chhang had looked forward to speaking at a special dinner among diplomats and fellow Cambodians to recognize the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and the United States.

The actual date of the beginning of Cambodia-U.S diplomatic ties was in July 15, 1950. That year, the U.S had sent its first ambassador to Cambodia to recognize its impending independence before the country's final separation from France in 1953.

Although relations have been rocky at times and even severed, in recent years the relationship has improved.

Later this month, there will be events in Cambodia to mark the anniversary, including a performance by Long Beach resident Sophiline Shapiro's Cambodian classical dance troupe of "Seasons of Migration."

Although he'd love to take it all in, instead, Chhang will have to hear second-hand from his bed at the Regency Oaks Skilled Nursing Care facility.

Initially, Chhang thought he suffered a stroke, but he says doctors are still doing tests.

Chhang traces his health problems to overextending himself in a recent visit to Phnom Penh for a reunion of war correspondents, or the "old hacks," as they called themselves. Before his ascension to Minister of Information, Chhang was a press liaison.

At the reunion, Chhang helped oversee the installation of a small memorial to the 37 journalists who died covering the civil war between 1970 and 1975. He was also part of a group that traveled south of Phnom Penh to plant a tree in memory of an NBC team killed there.

Chhang says he wrote and made eight different speeches over the reunion events.

Now he hopes to get out of his bed and do whatever he can to help his country. He had planned a speech about refreshing sometimes rocky relations between the U.S. and Cambodia before his country falls too much under the sway of China.

And he wishes to see a day when a more "spiritual leadership" comes to his country. That's would make the old man happy., 562-499-1291 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 562-499-1291


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