PM Hun Sen was said to have a 'gift' for his distinguished visitor.
he first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister in 43 years last week gave Cambodia
an opportunity for some high-profile public relations staging with its top donor
Prime Ministers Keizo Obuchi and Hun Sen visited a mock-up of a minefield in Siem
Reap to highlight the landmine issue, signed agreements for additional aid from Japan,
and paid homage at the memorial of a Japanese policeman killed in 1993 during a KR
But more importantly, the visit also kept the ongoing KR trial debate in the international
eye, at a crucial time for the advancement of the much-discussed draft law.
"We have a gift for His Excellency Obuchi," Hun Sen told reporters at Potchentong
Airport as the visiting dignitary arrived. The 'gift' turned out to be a concession
to the UN's concern over the role of the investigating judge. Instead of one investigating
judge, the government said, it was prepared to allow co-investigating judges, one
of whom could be foreign.
The UN released a list of concerns about the draft law prior to Obuchi's visit, detailing
its reluctance to be involved in trials that did not meet international standards.
One of the concerns centered on the role that an investigating judge would play.
"It is presently unclear what the competence of the investigating judges. .
. would be" said the report. "It is not clear whether an investigating
judge has the competence to close an investigation...the role of the investigating
judge must be carefully examined."
But some analysts in Phnom Penh have criticized the government concession, saying
that not only is it an over-valued gift, but that it may have been offered to Prime
Minister Obuchi in the hope that Japan would choose to offer assistance for the KR
trial irrespective of the wishes of the UN.
"Co-investigating judges are not so important," said Dr Lao Mong Hay, Director
of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. "A real gift would have been an international
chief prosecutor, representing humankind, defending humanity's rule of no massacre,
"Any trial depends on the prosecution - you can't have two investigating judges
whose mechanism remains unclear. It could stall the process altogether."
Japan's reaction to the concession was positive but reserved; despite Hun Sen's request
for Japan to send a judge to help with the trial, Obuchi was firm in his resolution
to help only with the blessing of the UN.
"I think our prime minister has misread Japanese foreign policy," said
Dr Lao. "Japan has not, as a rule, made moves ahead of the pack, ahead of bodies
like the UN and the US. They have a fear of being exposed to criticism. They have
quite a conservative policy."
One diplomatic source similarly criticized the government's concession, saying that
it was unlikely to break the current deadlock over the tribunal.
"It was obviously pulled out of the hat to impress Cambodia's largest donor,
but in fact the UN is unlikely to be impressed by it," said the source.
"I think Hun Sen was hoping that he would get the Japanese onside without concessions,"
the source continued, "but Japan has refused to break ranks with the rest of
the diplomatic community."
Dr Lao agreed.
"Hun Sen had hoped that Japan would take this sugar-coated pill to the UN -
but the question is, will the UN swallow?" he said.
In the last fortnight, the game of political volleyball between the government and
the UN has edged ever closer to a compromise, but despite Obuchi's efforts, it appears
to have temporarily ground to a halt. After rebuffing an invitation to New York to
discuss the issue, Hun Sen issued his own invitation to the UN to send a technical
team to Cambodia.
But the invitation has so far met only with silence from New York and, says one diplomat,
if the UN continues to stall, the Prime Minister may well lose patience and simply
send the law to the National Assembly without the world body's approval.
"The ball is in the UN's court," said the diplomat. I don't really see
what else Hun Sen can do at the moment. He has stalled the draft law three times
already, and has invited the UN here. The UN needs to act quickly, or it will all
No countries have yet said outright that they would be willing to participate in
an international tribunal without the backing of the UN, but the government has already
talked to many countries about such a possibility.
"I think we're really quite close to an agreement on this," said the diplomat,
"but the UN needs to follow through - if they send the right people with the
right attitude, it can work."
The diplomat dismissed the idea that Hun Sen would be in a dilemma over whether to
proceed without UN backing at the expense of annoying its top donor nation.
"At the end of the day, there are lots of countries involved, not just Japan,"
For the moment, however, Cambodian-Japanese relations have been strengthened, with
Obuchi leaving the country having promised further generous aid donations. With $100
million donated last year alone, Obuchi promised to continue to aid mine clearance,
as well as pledging $8 million in medical and infrastructure grants.
"I am determined to strengthen the friendship and cooperation between our two
countries," he said, shortly before leaving the country.