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interview with Hun Sen

The CambodiaCIA The World Factbook

YI: So in your opinion, Mr. Prime Minister, democracy works in Cambodia?

Hun Sen: I think to have opposition parties outside the government is good, much better than to have all political parties within the coalition government. According to the experience of other countries, --- we must at least have one or two opposition parties outside the government. And Cambodia is now going the way the other countries would like us to go.

YI: How do you respond to accusations of human rights violations in Cambodia?

Hun Sen: What is the human rights violation? I would like to understand this clearly too.

YI: Well, some people are being put in prison for no reason perhaps? Some journalists being chastised or taken to task for what they have written?

Hun Sen: I think we have to look again who are in prison without reason, and at journalists who have a problem with our system. You see, I would like to invite those keen in these issues, to discuss case by case. If we talk in general like this, it's hard to understand what a violation is. And if we talk about the newspapers, we better go together to see the printing houses or the place where they sell newspapers or we can go to the TV stations owned by the opposition parties. I've been hearing about human rights violation in Cambodia, but I would like to know the real point, the specific point.

YI: Mr. Prime Minister, we were just reading the report of the UN special envoy to Cambodia. He was quite general, it's true, but that was what I was referring to.

Hun Sen: I don't want to talk about this person but at the time he met me I used to call him a lost tourist. I think he is concerned with losing his job. He is worried about losing the salary he gets from working in Cambodia. So for me, it's better that he finds longer time to stay in Cambodia. There is no UN Secretary General Special Representative on human rights in Iraq. So why are they keeping this one in Cambodia? In a way, I could say that the United Nations has been spending their money wastefully. I think this is a kind of corruption, in which they manipulate the United Nations so that some people are employed.

YI: Okay, Mr. Prime Minister, let's go to another subject then. I'd like to talk to you about the Khmer Rouge trials. Are you confident that they will actually take place? Because this is looked upon by many people in Cambodia as a closure of a painful part of Cambodian history.

Hun Sen: Until now, we can conclude that there will be a trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders in the not too distant future. In Jakarta, on April 24th, I shook hands to say goodbye to His Excellency Kofi Annan, and he said to me that I must make sure there'll be a trial. On April 28th I received a letter from His Excellency Kofi Annan. The official letter mentioned that the United Nations had completed its legal procedures on receiving the contributions from the member states. So we can say that both sides have completed its legal procedures and that the agreements between the two sides are coming in to force. From the Cambodian side, we are now seeking the necessary funds so that a trial can take place. Today I have been asking my colleague about these procedures and also to include the meeting that I will have with the Japanese ambassador. There must be a trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders, so that we can put an end to a page of suffering in the history of Cambodia, and to have justice for our people. Maybe you can remember the time when you interviewed me 21 years ago. Do you remember anyone talking about the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders? Many countries bowed their head to the Khmer Rouge, they respected the Khmer Rouge. At that time I was Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister and later I became the Prime Minister. And I insist that the trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders be included in the Paris peace agreement. I've been talking during the negotiation for the Paris Peace Agreement that the appropriate place for the Khmer Rouge leaders is not in the SNC (the supreme national council of Cambodia) but it's in the trial. I insisted that a clause about obstructing the return of the genocidal regime to Cambodia be included in the Paris Peace Agreement but they disagreed with me. They just said, obstruct the recurrence of recent history. So it means that when the Khmer Rouge was strong, no one dared to challenge them. But at the time, we could contain people from forcing us to hold a trial for the Khmer Rouge leaders. Some people even accused us of not wanting to have the trials, that we just kept them as the historical witness to Cambodia. What we fear is that the international community seems to go along with the trend, there is no historical truth. You see in Cambodia we have a slogan that goes, when the crocodile is in the water I dare not catch the crocodile but once the crocodile dies I catch it for you to see. When the water buffalo is in the farm I dare not chase the Buffalo but when the water buffalo goes away, then I'll chase for you to see. So it means that when the Khmer Rouge is strong, no one dared challenge them except us. But when the Khmer Rouge die those people consider themselves to be very strong and see us as weak.

YI: Prime Minister, are they truly gone, the Khmer Rouge? Is there any way in which they can ever come back?

Hun Sen: I think that is the outcome, because we have put an end to the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge. If not counting from the time ... surrender or integrate themselves into the society, we can count from the time we arrest ... the commander of the Khmer Rouge in March 1999. This political and military organization exists more than half of a century, and used to control Cambodia. You see they would like to destroy us in a type of strategy we described as the .... But they did not expect that their political and military organization has come to an end because of their political line. Our win-win policy is still the ... UNTAC has been using US$2 billion in Cambodia but could not put an end to the political military organization of the Khmer Rouge. But for us we can solve the problem for ourselves, and we can complete this problem.

YI: Let's talk about the economy. Let's talk about poverty that still exists in Cambodia. What does Cambodia need to improve its economy and what will be the government's priorities in addressing the problem of poverty which includes illiteracy, the problem of AIDS and of course the problem of providing jobs?

Hun Sen: For the economic progress of Cambodia I have put forward for execution the six priorities. First attention is paid on agricultural field, focusing mainly on solving the water problem. It would be a mistake if Cambodia oversee agriculture. Because Cambodia is an agricultural based country. But for the development of agriculture we have to focus mainly, first of all, on water. The second priority is on infrastructure, communication, transport, and telecommunication. Even though some steps have been taken for the development of this field, but compared to other countries we are still weak. We need further investments on this field. So we need to further promote the development of the road, railroad, port and airport. The third priority is on electricity because there's increase need of electricity from the investors as well as from the people. And now we are facing difficulties, because electricity in Cambodia is produced by the fuels, and now we are facing the increased price of fuels. Which is also one of the energy and security problem. The investors also faced difficulties when they do business in Cambodia because of the high price of electricity. Therefore we are now trying our best to focus on hydro electricity. Our fourth priority is on education and training of human resource. This is one of the big challenges in Cambodia compared to other countries. Because most of the human resource has been depleted during Pol Pot. And therefore we focus our attention to the training of human resource and pay attention to promoting education. The fifth priority is on intensive industry, processing and export industry. In this field we can say that we are relatively successful in attracting investment, in providing trade facilitation, and in export. In the year 2004, our government export is US$1.9 billion. So for a small country like Cambodia we could see it as one of our successes. Maybe this is not enough, we have to promote other industry based export based on the favorable condition now, when we are a member of the WTO. The sixth priority is on tourism, which is one of the main potentials for Cambodia. We have to promote this field because this field can provide us with national revenues and job opportunity for our people.

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