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‘Empty hands’ rebuilt the nation


Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) and Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema (3rd R) take part in an inauguration ceremony for a new flyover in the capital in 2011. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) and Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema (3rd R) take part in an inauguration ceremony for a new flyover in the capital in 2011. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen seemingly came to the rescue of Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema yesterday, reiterating a controversial assertion of Chuktema’s that the late King-Father’s legacy had been all but destroyed by the tumult of the Khmer Rouge.

Without naming Chuktema directly, the premier endorsed the governor’s assertion that all of former King Norodom Sihanouk’s physical legacy, in the form of roads, bridges and economic development, were irreparably destroyed under the Khmer Rouge – an opinion that has drawn fire ever since it was broadcast in a televised interview on October 16.

In a speech at a graduation ceremony in the Phnom Penh yesterday, Hun Sen said that after the Democratic Kampuchea regime, the current government was left to start the rebuilding process with “empty hands”.

“Most of the achievements in the Sangkum Reastre Niyum era were destroyed – like the paper factory in Chhloung district was damaged, and some bridges were also destroyed, including Chrouy Changvar Bridge, but it was rebuilt for use in 1993 or 1994,” Hun Sen said, noting that even the buildings that were still standing were no longer salvageable.  

In his remarks, Hun Sen added that had it not been for the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia would be a much more developed country by now, pointing to his regime’s decades of work rebuilding the country.
The remarks were almost identical to those made nearly two weeks ago by Chuktema.

“The works that [Sihanouk] tried to build were completely destroyed by Pol Pot – like Phnom Penh, which became a ghost city, and we rebuilt it,” Chuktema said. “Everything that the king built was ruined by the Pol Pot regime, but since 1979, we have tried to build it up to this day.”

Commentators immediately took to social media to slam the governor’s remarks, accusing him of slandering the late King Father’s achievements in the interest of aggrandizing those of his own Cambodian People’s Party.

On the page of a popular Facebook community called “I Love Cambodia”, a photo illustration was posted of the late king surrounded by, among other things, Olympic Stadium and the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

The image was followed by an outpouring of support for Sihanouk, and at least one admonishment to Chuktema to “open your eye[s]”.

Under a video of Chuktema’s interview, posted on YouTube under the name “Kep Chutema’s [sic] Blunder”, comments were uniformly negative, with many laced with profanity.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday also took issue with the government’s claim that they had rebuilt the country from scratch, saying that many of Sihanouk’s public works still remained.
However, he added, every current leader blames the last one for not doing enough.

“Even the King Father’s regime blamed French colonial regime for having left nothing for Cambodia, or very little,” he said. “The Lol Nol regime blamed [Sihanouk’s regime] for doing nothing, and the latest government claimed it started with ‘empty hands’.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at



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