Then Prince Sihanouk and then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali meet in Phnom Penh during the implementation of the Paris Peace Accords.
Kek Galabru, founder and president of local human rights NGO Licadho, has spoken
publicly for the first time about the role she played from France that helped set
up the initial meetings between then Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen in the 1980s. The
meetings paved the way for the Jakarta Informal Meetings (JIM 1 and 2), which led
to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in October 1991.
"In 1983 I was in Angola - my husband was the French Ambassador there,"
Galabru told the Post. "The [Angolan] Minister of Foreign Affairs called me
and asked if I wanted to meet a delegation from Cambodia. He set up an appointment
and I met Mr Hun Sen, who was then foreign minister."
"We talked about Cambodia and how to find peace for our country, because Cambodia
had suffered so much under the Khmer Rouge. When I invited Hun Sen, he came to our
residence and we talked from 8 pm to 1 am."
"Time passed and in 1986 we came back to Paris," says Galabru. Her husband
took up a position in the Conseil d'Etat, a placing that would later prove useful
in ironing out technical problems surrounding the meetings.
"In early 1987 my husband wanted to go to Cambodia. I telegrammed Mr Hun Sen
who agreed my husband could come. He stayed in Cambodia for the whole month of February.
He stopped in Bangkok and met Prince Ranariddh - they also talked about peace."
"Then my husband came back to France and we waited. In April, I think, Ranariddh
went to see his father [in Beijing] to see whether it was possible for him to meet
Hun Sen. Ranariddh called me and said it was not yet time."
Prince Sihanouk arrived in France in September, 1987. The Galabrus went to visit
him in Fere-en-Tardenois, where he had rented a hotel, L'Hostellerie du Chateau.
They discussed the Prince's coalition government, the reasons why he had left Cambodia
and national reconciliation.
"September 24 is an historic date. We spent six hours with Prince Sihanouk.
At the end I did not want to remind him that we had come to ask if he wanted to meet
Hun Sen. However, before I said good-bye he said: 'Alright, I would like to meet
Hun Sen. So you contact him'. He wanted to go through us because I am Cambodian and
my husband is French, [which he regarded as] a neutral country."
That saw the start of two months of letters and telegrams between the Prince and
Hun Sen sent through the Galabrus in Paris.
"We sent a telegram to Hun Sen, who sent his first letter to the Prince in Khmer
on 21 October 1987. But the Prince could not see the letter [as it was signed in
Hun Sen's capacity as] the President of the Council of Ministers of the People's
Republic of Kampuchea. We had forgotten to tell Hun Sen to send the letter as a private
It was politically impossible for either man to recognize the other as head of state.
The Prince's early letters and telegrams are addressed simply to "Mr Hun Sen,
Phnom Penh." Later correspondence was prefaced with "SE", the French
abbreviation for "Son Excellence", but never referred to Hun Sen's political
In his next communication, a telegram dated 18 November 1987, Hun Sen wrote that
as the Prince "has many times proclaimed you want to meet me, so I would like
to meet you too". Hun Sen agreed to meet Sihanouk in France the following month
as the Prince had suggested.
The meeting would be with "no preconditions" and was set for 2 December.
Sihanouk's reply in a telegram dated 23 November 1987, proposed the meeting discuss
national reconciliation, national unity and national independence. He also suggested
two methods for the meeting: either a simple one-on-one talk between the two men,
or a gathering of six, three from each side.
A flurry of telegrams late November saw the meeting details agreed. Prince Sihanouk,
Princess Monineath and Prince Ranariddh met with Hun Sen, Dith Munthy, at the time
deputy minister for foreign affairs, and Cham Prasidh, then deputy minister in the
Kek and Jean-Jacques Galabru acted throughout this process as the 'middle men'. Telegrams
to and from Phnom Penh went through her apartment in Paris, with phone calls routed
through Moscow, as there were no direct lines to Cambodia. Representatives from the
Prince visited her husband in his office at the Conseil d'Etat, and she was in regular
contact with Princess Monineath.
If communication between Paris and Cambodia was not easy, then keeping the arrangements
quiet from the press was positively awkward.
"I never talked to journalists about this [process]. I had a lot of friends
who were journalists coming to my apartment wanting to know what was going on. I
told them: 'No comment', because we did not want to provoke any embarrassment to
the French government, to Prince Sihanouk, to the Cambodian delegation...We wanted
Prince Sihanouk and Mr Hun Sen to meet, so we kept a very low profile, behind the
The entire process, from Sihanouk's instruction to Galabru to contact Hun Sen until
the first meeting in Fere-en-Tardenois, took only ten weeks. After so many years
of inactivity, it seemed almost rushed.
"We talked about this. Sihanouk and Hun Sen had said many times before that
they wanted to meet. Many people wanted to put these two men together, but those
were maybe not the right times. We were lucky, because my parents knew Prince Sihanouk
and he trusted us, and also my parents pushed me in that direction. I had also met
Mr Hun Sen in Angola and talked about peace. This was the right time - the fruit
was ready to be picked."
The next two meetings, both held in France, were also arranged through the Galabrus.
"Very few people know about [our participation]," says Galabru. "At
the time I did not want to talk about it, but I think that on the 10th anniversary
enough time has passed."
The role they played was, however, acknowledged privately. Prince Sihanouk sent a
letter thanking the Galabrus for their help, while another letter sent by Hun Sen
to Jean-Jacques Galabru in August 1988 stated: "We appreciate very much the
actions of you and your charming wife. I thank both of you, who have played an important
role in Cambodia's reconciliation process."