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Sar Kheng: Pailin to press

W idely tipped as the one to watch in Cambodia's political power game,

Co-Interior Minster Sar Kheng spoke with DPA correspondent Leo Dobbs
on current issues.

Q: Will the government attack Pailin?

A: There are two reference points we have to bear in mind. One is that the

constitution stipulates that the Royal government should control 100 percent of

our territory and not to let any other illegal forces to control or set up

parallel administrations. Secondly, is that the outlawing of the Khmer Rouge

(means) they now become bandits, and sooner or later we have to make activities

against them and as far as I know there are no more negotiations to try to

include the Khmer Rouge in the government. I don't know if later on the King

might have some idea or plan and we will consider at that time if it comes out,

but for the time being there are no negotiations in this way. We will not allow

the Khmer Rouge to control even one small part of our territory. But I am not

aware of any particular military operation to control Pailin, but we don't plan

to let the Khmer Rouge expand their territory outside Pailin either.

Q: Why were guards disarmed and withdrawn from (Siem Reap MP) Sam Rainsy's

house?

A: The request to withdraw bodyguards from his house came from his own party,

FUNCINPEC, and I have already voiced my opposition to withdraw those bodyguards

for two reasons. I forecast that if withdrawn in these circumstances we would

have strong protests from diplomats, NGOs, press, etc. If something happened

after they were withdrawn, the government would have had full responsibility.

Sam Rainsy had eight bodyguards when he was Minister of Finance. Now, since he

is only an MP, I think (he needs) one or two to ensure security. He does still

have two armed bodyguards, and we have to provide security for every MP. But in

some particular situation, especially for Sam Rainsy, if he feels that he has

not enough security to travel around he could apply to get extra bodyguards and

we will provide for him accordingly.

Q: With economic progress comes crime. What are you doing to curb this

sort of trend?

A: I don't fully agree that with economic progress comes crime. In our

country crime develops because of three factors, influenced directly from two

decades of war. First, the basic needs of the population (are not being met)...

people need so much, and some do it in an honest way and some do it in a hard

way. Second, due to more than twenty years of war, weapons have spread around

the Kingdom so everyone has weapons, and they tend always to be used one way or

another. Thirdly, also because of war, the basic education in families, schools

and society is not well developed so that is why people do not think much. When

they want something they just use what they have in hand, most of the time in a

hard way to get it. In the Ministry of Interior we have even seen examples of

people stealing and using weapons to get goods from their own families. That is

why as Minister of Interior I issued a policy to get more and efficient control

over weapons among the population. Second, we must upgrade, train and specialize

our police force. Also, the general political measure of the government is to

improve standards of living and to focus our budget and efforts toward

education. I don't have specific figures but the level of crime drastically

decreased compared to 1993.

Q: Do you have evidence of organized crime, or the presence of

Triads?

A: I was told about this information many times... I have asked for

information but we don't have any evidence.

Q: Is drug trafficking and drug use a big problem?

A: We have already arrested people in possession of drugs and each time we

got one kilogram, two, five, much more than that. So in my opinion if we

intercept those quantities of heroin... I guess that Cambodia is already

becoming a transit place for the drugs and they already use the drugs in this

country... As yet we don't have particular laws to deal with the drug situation.

But for the time being, since the level of drug transits is still very low we

can apply our criminal law to deal with the situation... and it still can be

very efficient. In Cambodia people do not use marijuana like a drug, they use it

to prepare meals or as a cigarette smoke, its not a big deal, its not dangerous

for their life and people in general don't like to use it as a drug. Personally

I never use it. Its like monosodium glutamate, you put it in the soup so it

gives a particular taste.

Q: What about the fight against corruption?

A: I do support those public statements... and personally I am very

positive to fight corruption. But in my opinion, we must have concrete measures

and detailed plans with schedules and especially the political will to go ahead

with those plans. If not, we cannot deal efficiently against corruption. I think

that corruption is the most important problem in this country, not only among

the leaders, but also in the administration, even among the people. I don't know

how far, how big, how deep the corruption is, but I can say that it is a serious

(problem).

Q: Do you think the press law should be free of criminal

penalties?

A: I have already stated publicly to the Khmer Journalists Association

my position. We should decriminalize the press law. We already have a law to

deal with crime if a specific journalist has conducted criminal activities, so

no need to include it in the press law.

Q: What is your opinion on plans to close the UN Human Rights

Center?

A: I answer this on a personal basis. I think that our democracy is still

very young and we have to bear in mind that we come out of more than 23 years of

war. So conflict still exists, especially conflict between the one who has power

and the ones who do not. To live with each other we have to have other

organizations to help us monitor the human rights situation. In my opinion, we

should renew the mandate of the UN Human Rights Center so that we can strengthen

democracy and human rights in Cambodia.

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