S amdech Hun Sen was awarded a peace prize and honorary doctorate in an elaborate
ceremony Dec 2. Huw Watkin went along to witness the occasion.
FOR the faithful of the Cambodian People's Party, this was quite an event.
Second Prime Minister and CPP stalwart Hun Sen was to be honored with an International
Peace Prize and an honorary Doctorate of Comparative Religion.
The honors were to be awarded by the World Peace Corps (WPC), based in Korea and
incorporated in the United States. A magnificent honor from an impressive organization,
no doubt, although nobody seemed to know much about it.
"I've never heard of them," said a spokesman from the United States Embassy.
"I don't know who they are," said the head of South Korea's Mission to
Cambodia. "But I think they might be Moonies."
"We are not Moonies," volunteered a spokesman for the group contacted in
Korea by the Post. "We are independent and we decided to consider Hun Sen for
the prize after a recommendation from our man in Phnom Penh."
"So who is your man in Phnom Penh?"
"Oh, so sorry. That is a secret - he does not want people to know who he is."
"OK then, perhaps you can tell me who, exactly, is the World Peace Corps?"
"We decide who should get the prize which is sponsored by the Interdenominational
Organization. It is free of religion, race and politics - it will bring peace to
Free of religion? But a WPC brochure produced for this event is full of religious
references, including that Jesus Christ is the only King of Peace, and that the ultimate
goal of the Peace Corps is going back to the bible?
"Ah, so sorry - you fax questions, OK? Good-bye," the spokesman said.
Not much luck either in the WPC brochure. Certainly no leads in the printed words
of Baron Vaea, Prime Minister of the Tonga Kingdom and Commanding General of World
"How wonderful it should be to have the Koreanism spread throughout the world
on the name of Peace Corps Movements! It really is beyond expression how much we
are honored and satisfied!" Baron Vaea wrote badly.
"Koreanism"? What is that? "World Mongolians"? And what about
the prize itself?
Well, the brochure provides the following explanation: "Peace Corps service
Prize, Appreciation Plaque and Certificate.
"Prize does not pay any sum of funds but provide required assistance to the
recipient needs which is kept in strict secrets. Metal [sic] is provided to wear
in the event of necessity.
"...The Prize winner is regarded as family member of Peace Corps and protective
efforts provided when necessary.
"With the membership coupons, the Prize winner may be provided with data and
information...those who are recommended by the Prize winner may be provided with
the required services in the international finance with High Technology."
Hmm? No matter. In Cambodia, the details are often fuzzy. It's the ceremony which
And so on the day of this auspicious event - and in order that Hun Sen could receive
his awards in safety and comfort - Phnom Penh's Chatamouk theater was sealed off
behind a cordon of road blocks and heavily armed soldiers.
On either side of the long red carpet leading to the theater's entrance waited 60
young women, sweating in the afternoon heat, but barefoot and otherwise charming
in white blouses and traditional red Sambot Chang Kbun.
Less charming were the Second PM's security men - dozens of them, jumpy and aggressive
as they searched guests for bombs and concealed weapons.
As Hun Sen's cavalcade wailed closer, a military honor guard - resplendent in shiny
helmets, crisp khaki uniforms and natty orange scarves - slouched to attention.
The great man alighted from his highly polished limousine and his safari-suited escort
surged forward pushing a gaggle of TV cameramen aside.
Brandishing automatic weapons, their webbing bulging with spare magazines, his bodyguards
whisked Cambodia's man of peace past the now kneeling girls, into the relative cool
of the auditorium.
The irony seemed lost on the assembled crowd - complete with the ambassadors of the
US, Britain, Canada, the Russian Federation, Vietnam and other foreign dignatories
dutifully present - who greeted Hun Sen's arrival with great applause as he mounted
a stage flanked by freshly picked flowers.
Hun Sen was enjoying himself. Wearing a flowing brown and blue academic gown and
smiling broadly, he knelt before a group of monks who blessed him. He rose and took
his center stage seat, the crowd continuing its loud applause.
A large Korean gentlemen then approached the microphone. The crowd hushed.
"Soksabie," he said - enthusiastic applause.
"Awkhun.," he continued to more applause before assembling a choir who
sang what sounded like a Korean Hymn with gravely gusto.
Then some preaching and a reading from the good book: "Do not turn away from
the useless serpent. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they
are useless." (Samuel, Chapter one, apparently.)
Then it was time for the speeches, most delivered in Korean without translation.
"Who are these guys, anyway?" a Foreign Ministry official was overheard
asking a western journalist.
An answer, of sorts, was soon forthcoming from one Dr Robert. L. Leggett, a former
US Congressman and co-founder of the World Peace Corps Council.
"Honorable judges, doctors and ambassadors, and particularly our new doctor
Hun Sen and your lovely wife, distinguished Buddhist monks and the people of the
great Republic of Cambodia," he began.
A couple of diplomats in the crowd exchanged a furtive glance. Isn't Cambodia a Constitutional
"I am here today in no official capacity other than as Chief Judge of the World
Peace awarding council and...," Leggett continued, before issuing something
of a disclaimer.
"When the words Peace Corps are applied to the council... they are in no way
associated with the American Peace Corps...," he said, scotching the possible
explanation that this event was connected to the well-known American Peace Corps.
Leggett began listing Hun Sen's many achievements toward peace: "[He helped]
lay out the Cambodian Constitution which amazingly parallels the American Consti-tution...[it]
guarantees the right to strike, to speak, to assemble as we are here today, to publish
and to enjoy religious worship.
"The facility for compromise and accommodation of Minister Sen is well recognised
in ...your Constitution. The idea of the two Prime Minsters to satisfy the two major
factions of the country is much like the Democrat President and Republican Congress
in the US."
The US ambassador remained diplomatically impassive. Others in the audience appeared
to have gone to sleep.
Leggett continued: "...we salute you in Korea...uh...Cambodia, and your Constitution
and your economic and social development and in the area of human rights.
"We could use some Sen thinking in America!"
Thunderous applause. Those sleeping woke with a start and without much further ado,
Hun Sen was awarded his prize and PhD. Then, what seemed to be at least half the
crowd moved forward to present him with bunches of flowers.
Hun Sen accepted the bouquets graciously before passing them to a body guard who
appeared to be tossing them in a pile at the back of the stage.
The entire ceremony was beamed live on television and radio around Cambodia, the
reaction of its audience anyone's guess. "Everyone thinks it's a Nobel prize
or something," grumbled one government official later.
Hun Sen himself was humble in his acceptance speech, acknowledging the "courage
and determination" of the Cambodian people in the process of seeking peace for
He also said he would like to share his prize with all the Cambodian leaders who
had joined and assisted him in the peace process and gave thanks to the international
community for their help.
"I would like to call on peace-loving people...to join forces in eliminating
for ever the firing sound so that in Cambodia there are only the sounds of hammers
and machines, the beautiful singing voices at harvest time and the laughter of children
in the schools," Hun Sen said.
"Yes, yes, yes," muttered a by-now exasperated journalist. "But who
are these guys?"