PRIME Minister Hun Sen livened up an otherwise staid July 5 meeting with representatives
of Cambodia's private sector by lashing out at accusations of military involvement
in land grabs and expressing his wish that the national carrier Royal Air Cambodge
Hun Sen's comments came during the second twice-yearly meeting of the Private Sector
Forum organized by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) to solicit private-sector
feedback on Government efforts to improve Cambodia's investment climate.
A request by a Chinese investor that Hun Sen intercede in a dispute between his company
and a Kampong Speu RCAF unit that refused to surrender land legally granted the company
by the CDC prompted a heated defense of the RCAF's reputation.
"The military in some places have been accused of abusing the land [rights]
of the people ... it affects the dignity of the military and I can't accept it,"
he said. "... You can't blame [the military] for what's not wrong ... the military
is very disciplined and has the approval of the Government."
Hun Sen topped off his tribute to the RCAF by praising it for its role in ending
rampant illegal logging in Cambodia.
"To curb illegal logging, without the military as a backbone, who could have
done it?" he asked.
Hun Sen's comments surprised spokespeople for both the human rights NGO Licadho and
the British-based environmental watchdog Global Witness.
Licadho provided the Post with a partial list of documented military-backed evictions
of an estimated 133 families from across Cambodia since the beginning of 2000.
"Hun Sen doesn't necessarily know about these cases," Licadho Director
Eva Galabru said. "But it's pretty clear the military will abuse its power and
Global Witness Director Patrick Alley was equally puzzled by Hun Sen's praise for
RCAF saying: "our view is that RCAF was absolutely integral to the whole illegal
Hun Sen saved his harshest comments for Royal Air Cambodge, castigating the airline
for alleged losses of $24.25 million in recent years.
"I hope RAC goes bankrupt tomorrow," he said.