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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Controversial Vun set for Canberra posting

Controversial Vun set for Canberra posting

A MBASSADOR designate to Australasia, Chheang Vun, granted the Post an exclusive interview before setting off to officially establish the new embassy.

Vun will leave on Aug 28 for Canberra, the Australian capital to take up his new post.

Vun will serve a three-year term as Ambassador to both Australia and New Zealand- which will require him to jet back and forth between the two countries.

In the interview Vun, a member of the CPP, described Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans as "the father of the Cambodia because he tries so hard to help the country."

Evans has been enthusiastically lobbying foreign powers to send military aid to help the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces - which analysts agree is still firmly in the control of the CPP.

Vun said: "To protect democracy, to protect security and to keep the nation alive a strong military is desperately needed at this time."

But he said his job as ambassador was to be an envoy of government policy and he would merely do what the government instructed of him with respect to lobbying Australia for further military aid.

In late June Vun was the subject of controversy surrounding a debate concerning the then proposed legislation to outlaw the Khmer Rouge organized by Julio Jeldres, Executive Director of the Khmer Institution of Democracy.

Jeldres accused Vun of having threatened him with expulsion for interfering in Cambodia's internal affairs by organizing the debate.

It was also rumored that various members of government, including Foreign Minister Prince Sirivudh, had been the subject of death threats because of their desire to attend the debate.

After Vun's denial of the allegations at the debate Jeldres said: "He's not telling the truth, he's not telling the truth.... he threatened me."

Vun told the Post : "Now let's reconsider this. I am a member of National Assembly. I have no authority, no power or right to threaten him [Jeldres]. I am not a policeman or a minister."

But Vun said the matter was a minor incident and he wanted it to be forgotten.

Vun is the first ambassador to Australia since the embassy was shut in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came to power.

Vun said the new embassy would have a staff of eight picked from the department of foreign affairs: two advisors; one first secretary; one second secretary; three third secretaries and one military attaché.

The ambassador designates wife is already in Australia, and three staff members flew to Canberra in early July to make pre-office arrangements.

Vun said: "There are many major things I have to do on this mission.

"We have to be responsible and make a good relationship between both countries, especially as Australia is a long-time helper of Cambodia and an important actor in finding peace for the country.

" So we need to have an increasingly sincere relationship between our two countries.

"To promote our peoples' living standards we need more investment to come to our country. We have to publicize and explain to investors the prime information concerning Cambodia to convince them to invest in our country.

"We have to publicize the true information and real work that is going on in our country because there much false information being circulated abroad about Cambodia.

"We have a duty to [publish the truth] in order to serve our country's interests."

Vun said he would organize seminars in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth where he would invite business executives to attend for an exchange of ideas, and also explain to them the new investment law and new fields of activity in Cambodia.

Vun said he had experience on economic matters and in attracting investment because he was the former Chairman of the Cambodian Finance and Banking Commission, and in 1992 he was the deputy Minister in the Finance Ministry.

When asked about seeking Australian aid for Cambodia, Vun said: "We have to seek all kinds of assistance we believe can help bring safety to our country and allow it to grow.

"Australia is one of the countries that so far has helped us a great deal so we have to push for more and more assistance.

"Agricultural assistance is very important and is needed immediately. I will ask Australia to receive and educate some Cambodian farmers and officials about their techniques, or I will ask Australian experts to come to see and teach farmers here.

"We also have to try and ask for scholarships for our students and officials to fill their knowledge gaps so they can serve the nation effectively."

Vun said there would also be a role for the new embassy in helping the many Cambodian-Australians to adjust to their new country while also retaining a love for their mother country, and developing skills that would be useful for Cambodia if they intend to return.

Vun said: "Thank you to the Post, I am very happy to have talked to you because I have never had this chance before."

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