Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to Cambodia’s ethnic Cham Muslims yesterday by extolling many of their virtues, including the Islamic tradition of abstaining from drinking alcohol and what the premier said were lower rates of sexually transmitted disease within the community.
“Cambodian Muslims doesn’t need alcohol, but Khmer men need it, therefore Khmer men spend at a higher level than Cambodian Muslims, and it may be Khmer men are affected by HIV and AIDS more than Cambodian Muslims,” he said, adding, “I am not sure, because Khmer men go to karaoke [parlours].”
Khmers represent the largest ethnicity in a population of about 14 million, while Cham Muslims, a separate ethnicity that account for the majority of Muslims in Cambodia, number in the low hundreds of thousands.
Speaking at a Koranic recitation contest in the riverside Chaktomuk conference hall, Hun Sen also said Cambodia’s Muslims were free to practise their faith without fear of persecution, while the same atmosphere did not exist in other, unnamed countries.
“I don’t want to say names of any other country, but Muslims are lucky to live in Cambodia,” he said, quick to qualify that with, “we aren’t talking the Pol Pot regime,” when Cham Muslims were targeted by the Khmer Rouge.
“The difference of religion is not an obstacle for unity, and the Cambodian King always allowed Cambodian Muslims to pray in the Royal Palace, such as for his birthday.”
He said he contributed $5,000 each year to the Koranic recitation foundation, and pointed out that two youths who helped measure land as part of his national titling scheme are Muslim.
The speech comes on the heels of previous talks touting the Cambodian People’s Party’s chances in the upcoming elections in July. It also follows a string of speeches given at the inauguration of Buddhist pagodas, where the premier has taken pains to remind the clergy of how well the CPP has provided for them. Though Hun Sen did not harp on the elections at yesterday’s talk, it was on the minds of those attending.
Sos Kamri, a senior spiritual leader in the Cham Muslim community, said at the event that Cambodian Muslims support Hun Sen and would be casting their ballots for him in July.