Ung Huot, claiming Royal recognition as the new First Prime Minister, returned
to Cambodia Aug 14 after a joint visit with Hun Sen to see the King in Beijing. He
spoke to Jason Barber and Christine Chaumeau the next day.
Phnom Penh Post: What was the atmosphere at your meeting with His Majesty
and what was his position was on the recent events?
Ung Huot: We were very happy to be in Beijing and to be accepted. The meeting
started at 10am and finished with the lunch and so on at 3pm. The King is in treatment
in Beijing, he was taking medicine in front of us. So we appreciate very much his
welcoming us, because we thought we might disturb the King in his convalescence.
So that was a very, very important meeting that he offered us. The atmosphere was
like a family - children and parents. I called him my father, because the King is
the father of Cambodia; so he is also our father. He said 'You are very good. You
are a good speaker, you know that?' I said 'No'. He said 'Before you left Phnom Penh,
CNN asked you why you go to see the King, when the King slapped you in the face by
calling you a puppet?' My reply was 'He is my father, so whatever he says I don't
care because he is my father'. So he appreciated very much my statement to CNN. He
said to me 'I did not say that you are a puppet. I put the word puppet in brackets'.
That means he was quoting me, because I had told CNN that people are saying that
I will be a puppet of Hun Sen. I said I am prepared to be the puppet of Hun Sen if
it's for peace and stability and prosperity and security for my people; even if they
say that I am a puppet, I am prepared to do it for the sake of my country and my
people. So the King watched that and that's why he put the word puppet in brackets.
He said 'No, I did not say that you are a puppet, I was just quoting your statement
It was the first time that Samdech Chea Sim and the two Prime Ministers briefed the
King about the situation. As you know, information coming from Ranariddh and his
supporters, of course they have to say that there are many killings, there are violations
of human rights. So it's the first time that we could go and say that things are
becoming normalized... We reported to him that the government is providing 200 million
riels to MPs from all sides and one helicopter to go all over the country when there
is a report of problems, of fighting, of violations of human rights. The government
is also opening all jails and detention centers to human rights groups. When we were
there, the King had information that 40 people were burned alive in Pichnal and it
was not true at all. It was lies and so on, misinformation to the King. So I can
understand why the King was so concerned, we cannot blame him.
I promised, and Samdech Hun Sen promised, that we, the two Prime Ministers, will
work to bring political stability to this country, and peace, and investment and
economic development. That's what the King wants. The King is 74-years-old. What
else does he want? He doesn't want any power. He was saying that he was ready to
abdicate if Hun Sen agreed. But Hun Sen said 'Please, the Cambodian people need you,
please don't talk about abdication. We want you to stay as our father. You are the
cement to our nation'. This was our wish, so the King was happy to hear all this,
and also that we will organize the election of 1998, a democratic election free of
violence and intimidation. We will not fight to death toward winning the election.
We will let our people decide on the winner. We are also taking measures to bring
in all the guns, illegal and so on, in the villages and provinces before the election,
so that people cannot use guns to intimidate during the election. Another important
thing that we briefed him about was that we expect that the King would preside over
the first meeting of the Supreme Council of Magistracy [SCM]. This issue has been
stalled for more than three years because Prince Ranariddh didn't want the meeting
to happen. He wrote to the King saying that he should not preside over it because
all of them [judges] are CPP... But they [CPP] are prepared to change the composition,
accepting judges from the Funcinpec side. After the first meeting, the first item
on the agenda will be the replacement of the judges by [those] who we propose from
Funcinpec. I am working on that, to propose the names to the King... The [SCM] has
to appoint three members to be members of the Constitutional Council, which has the
job of interpreting the Constitution. We haven't been able to have the Constitutional
Council for four years. This will be the first time, when the King returns to Cambodia,
that these two bodies can be formed, which will complete the state of law in Cambodia.
The King has yet to give any public blessing to you as First Prime Minister. Do
you worry that there will still be doubts about your legitimacy?
The King is in a very difficult position and I as his son understand very well.
If he is not prepared to say it publicly, his actions already tell us: the seating
arrangements that he provided to us at the lunch, and so on, is enough. You people
are too slow to understand, to pick it up, from the King. But the official recognition
is already done. Done in the first instance when he told Samdech Chea Sim that he
has no objection if Samdech Chea Sim sees fit to sign [the decree appointing Ung
Huot]. That's his way of saying I accept him. The second thing is that the King told
us 'I am prepared to work with the two Prime Ministers in the country'. That's enough.
When he says two Prime Ministers, it means he recognizes me. When he comes here he
will be working with me. He said 'Ranariddh, I still recognize him as Prime Minister',
and he cited the example of Mr Pierre Mesmer, who was Prime Minister of France in
the 1950s or 60s. When the King met him, he addressed him 'Mr Prime Minister'. That's
how he will address Ranariddh, as 'Mr Prime Minister' - past Prime Minister, that
Did you have any initial hesitation about accepting the nomination as First Prime
Yes. First of all I never had that ambition, and that is from my heart. I had
been to Paris to attend the Consultative Group meeting... and then this thing happened.
When I returned on the 14th - not the 4th, as some people say, which gives the wrong
impression that I came to do the coup d'état - I returned expecting that I
would remain Foreign Minister. That was my hope. I said I must stay as Foreign Minister.
Why? Because the whole world knows me in a good sense, that I am a good man. I'm
not saying that I am, but they say I am a capable man, a good man, that I am easy
to talk to, that I listen to people, that I make correct decisions. The world community
views me that way, Asean views me that way, the Cambodian people, even the cyclo
drivers, view me that way. So when they said OK we want you to retain the Foreign
Ministry but we also want you to be Prime Minister, I said in that case it has to
be decided by my party. So then I went to my party and said 'This is what the people
want, that's the feeling, and so I have no other choice'. I said that I put the interests
of my country and my people above even the interests of my party and my boss. So
I have no way to refuse. Then they said OK we support you. Toan Chay - you know that
Funcinpec is divided in two - Toan Chay has to support me and Nady Tan and Loy Sim
Chheang have to support me and we have to call a meeting of the MPs of Funcinpec.
So we did all that we could in the circumstances to [get] support. So I was satisfied.
I said OK, it is not Asean, not the world community, not America, who insist that
it must be credible - I insist that it should be credible. If it's not credible,
I should not take the job at all. The job must be credible, the people must support
me. And then finally that vote in the National Assembly on the 6th of August gave
me 86 votes in a secret ballot... When it comes to a secret ballot, you don't know.
That's why you see there were 13 votes which were not in my favor. But we needed
only 80 votes; we got 86 - more than two-thirds of the National Assembly. Like Samdech
Hun Sen said, to be a Prime Minister in Cambodia is more difficult than to be the
President of America because we need two-thirds. No one else needs two-thirds in
this world. I passed that, so I am proud, I am happy, with the support of the people
of Cambodia. I already promised them that I will do all my best to bring Cambodia
to political stability, to peace, to development, to give a chance to my people to
fight poverty. Now I have the credentials, the confidence of my people, and I have
no hesitation to do it with Samdech Hun Sen.
You met Prince Ranariddh on your way back to Cambodia. What did you tell him?
I met him in Paris on the 9th of July... He said to me 'It's very important that
you should come with me to New York, to Washington, to Asean capitals'. I said that
I had made a call to Phnom Penh to His Excellency Loy Sim Chheang, the Secretary
General of Funcinpec, and I asked him how the situation in Cambodia was. He said
the situation was calming down, that he was trying to help Funcinpec people there,
and that he was very, very busy. I said 'Can I come?' He said 'Yes, if you can come,
come. I need you'. I told Prince Ranariddh that I had spoken to His Excellency Loy
Sim Chheang and he said he needs me to come and help him to save the Funcinpec people
here. My wife was in Cambodia, so that was another reason. And the third reason was
that I should come back to lobby Asean. So Ranariddh let me go. I noticed he was
not happy but... I said there are more Funcinpec people here who need to be saved.
I never thought I would come back to be Prime Minister of this country, no way.
Following the National Assembly vote, arrest warrants have been issued for Prince
Ranariddh. Do you believe the Prince is guilty of treason?
You are innocent until proven guilty. Prince Ranariddh believes that he is not
guilty, and other people believe that he is guilty. The only one who can say whether
he is guilty or not is the court of law. So I cannot say. I believe I can say, but
to be correct, nobody can say for sure. I believe he is guilty, you can quote me
on that. I think he is guilty in the importation of arms... We have the documentation...
so that's evidence enough. He might say 'I am the Prime Minister, I can order guns'.
No. Anything he want to buy, even for his bodyguards, has to go through the Ministry
of Defense. So in that case, he is already in the wrong. Please, imagine John Howard
of Australia or Jacques Chirac or Bill Clinton ordering guns and tanks and so on.
I think they would go to jail straight away.
Are you confident that Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has always ordered guns for
his bodyguards through the proper channels?
I do not have any information. No one has arrested him for that, so please don't
talk to me about hearsay. I cannot say whether Samdech Hun Sen ordered legally or
not legally, you have to ask him. But in Ranariddh's case, which we are talking about,
he was caught red-handed.
If Prince Ranariddh doesn't return to Cambodia, do you think he should be tried
We wish that he will come and I personally would guarantee a fair trial and his
personal safety. As the Prime Minister of this country, I will talk to Samdech Hun
Sen to make sure we will have a fair trial for him, and then let the process of law
take its course. I know Samdech Hun Sen will agree with me that we should provide
guarantees of the safety of his life so that he can stand trial. If he doesn't come,
that's a different thing. That means he is scared to face the law. Even if you are
Prime Minister, you are under the law of the land.
On a personal level, what kind of a man do you believe Hun Sen is?
Samdech Hun Sen is a good man. He is a straight-forward, honest man. But you know
lately, in the past almost two years, he became very mean, very bad, because Ranariddh
made him so. It was engineered by Ranariddh. Ranariddh always told us 'You don't
need to do anything for the election, just follow me'. That's how he did it, he made
Hun Sen a devil. And he expected that the people would politically kill the devil
at the election in 1998. But I say that the devil turned on him before the election,
the devil that he created. But Samdech Hun Sen is not a bad man. I can talk to him.
I talked to him, I talked to Ranariddh and to him, and I gathered that he listens
to sense, to logic. I reported to him, because I reported to both Prime Ministers.
I told the world that I have two bosses. I have a more difficult job than any other
Foreign Minister. It's not easy but he makes things easy for me. So now I am his
partner in the government. We talk to each other, we already have a lot of understanding.
So he is not a bad man, he is a good man, and I called him a patriot in my speech
at the National Assembly. I said he is a patriot, he loves his country too, he needs
a chance to do it, and I will provide him the chance to do it together with me.
If Samdech Hun Sen should attempt to introduce policies which you don't agree
with how much influence do you believe you will have to change his mind?
A lot. I have the power of persuasion, logic and sense. I believe in justice.
I believe in truth. That's my leverage with him, not soldiers, not police, not guns.
I think I will do that more efficiently if I talk about logic, democracy, about respect
of human rights according to the law. I have a lot of hope that I can convince him
that way, not by guns. No, you cannot convince him by force.
Earlier, you spoke of your interview with CNN and the allegation that you are
a puppet of Hun Sen...
I said that people are saying that. And my reply was that I am prepared to be,
if that's the case, for the interests of my country. I put the interests of my country
above me. As long as Cambodia has stability, investment, an economy which flourishes
and our people get out of poverty, I don't care who calls me a puppet, calls me stupid,
calls me whatever. I accept that.
So are you prepared to be subservient to Hun Sen, in reality, in the interests
of stability and peace in Cambodia?
I already answered to you. I use persuasion, logic and sense. And truth and justice
is my political party. That will live in me forever... I was born that way. I have
been trained in Australia. That is me, and no one can take that away from me. That
is something intangible. That is me.
You have replaced a Prime Minister who was effectively removed by guns. Surely
in the back of your mind is the thought that if you displease Hun Sen, the same thing
could happen to you?
No way. I have to correct you and other people who say he [Ranariddh] was removed
with guns. He was not removed with guns; he fled the country on the 4th of July,
before he lost the battle. The 'battle' - that means two forces confronting each
other. One side was using the government forces with the Ministry of Defense and
the other side, the side of Prince Ranariddh, was using the illegal Khmer Rouges
that they brought to Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge areas. It was a battle that
Nhek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal and Ho Sok told Prince Ranariddh that they would win.
Before they convinced him to leave the country, they told him that he could come
back in two days to declare victory. He was not removed by force. If Nhek Bun Chhay,
Ho Sok and Serey Kosal had been able to remove Hun Sen and Chea Sim and so on, would
you call that a removal by force by Prince Ranariddh? No, it was a fair and square
battle by two forces. I am Funcinpec, I am very unhappy but I have to say that...
I think Ranariddh took the wrong advice from Nhek Bun Chhay and Ho Sok, believing
that people would rise up against the government, against Hun Sen, and that he would
win that battle. But it did not happen. So the government has to defend [itself].
This was not removing Ranariddh by force - please, look me straight in the eyes,
I am not lying. It was a fair and square battle and Ranariddh could have won if Ho
Sok and Nhek Bun Chhay had been correct. Hun Sen would be dead and Chea Sim would
be dead. What would you say, what would the world say about that?
The battle was started by one side, by Hun Sen attacking Funcinpec?
No, the big gunfire was started by Tang Krasang. If you want to get that information,
go and interview people who were caught in Tang Krasang military barracks of Nhek
Bun Chhay. Don't say to me it was started by [CPP]. It was CPP who tried to disarm
the Khmer Rouge illegal forces but the first battle was started by the firing of
six shells [from Tang Krasang] and the CPP replied to that half an hour later. My
driver, you go and ask him, he was there with my wife. Loy Sim Chheang was a witness,
Nady Tan was too. They can testify who fired first. To correct the opinion of the
world, I tell them now.
You mentioned the need for free and fair elections in 1998. If people such as
Sam Rainsy, Son Soubert and a number of Funcinpec MPs are not here for those elections,
how can you say that this is democracy?
We call them to come back. If they don't come, that's their business. We have
yet to pass the electoral law. That electoral law will state who can be a Member
of Parliament, who can stand, who can vote. If they fall under that and they do not
come back, that's up to them.
And people like Sam Rainsy who...
Sam Rainsy is not Cambodia. Mr Sam Rainsy is one in 10 million people, please.
There are millions of people here. So Mr Rainsy, if he comes and participates in
the election, he is welcome. But if he doesn't, Cambodia cannot wait for him or anyone
And if he comes, do you think that his right to participate in the election will
be recognized somewhat more than his right to form a political party has been recognized
in the past two years?
As you know, we have no political party law. It has yet to be passed by parliament.
He was doing something illegal, in a sense. Wait until we have the party law, and
the election law, which will be coming in the very near future. Then if we do anything
different to that, you can say 'You are doing something against the law'. But so
far he did something against the law, because there was no political party law and
he insisted on talking about the UNTAC law and so on. OK, OK, but as far as the proper
party law, it is yet to be decided by parliament. From then on, anyone who is qualified
to form a party will be welcomed.
But the government has recognized [anti-Rainsy dissident] Kong Mony as president
of the Khmer Nation Party?
The government has no business in recognizing anyone.
You don't recognize him?
No. If I want to form a party myself, I will wait. He [Huot points to an aide]
wants to form a political party himself when the elections comes, when it is free
and there is a law. No one is going to stop anyone. And if we depart from that law,
then you can say 'You are not respecting the law, you are designing the law just
to bar someone'. You can still be the judge here, your paper, your people, the world.
But don't say anything that has not happened yet, please. You are innocent until
proven guilty - do you say that the government is already guilty?
If some of the Funcinpec MPs who are out of Cambodia should return and oppose
your appointment as First Prime Minister...
They cannot, even if they return. Even if they had been in the parliament, I got
86 votes. I needed 80 votes to pass.
But if they should come here and speak in support of Prince Ranariddh in the National
Assembly and so on, will you consider expelling these people from the party and parliament?
No, this is a free country and that's what I want to promote - democracy and freedom
of expression. We called them to come but only six of them came. The rest chose to
fight politically with Ranariddh. It's their choice, I respect that. But we cannot
have Cambodia and Cambodian people taken hostage by those few people. I think there
are only about 10 of them, that's all. The rest are in hospital and so on, like His
Excellency Ing Keith and Veng Sereyvuth, they are asking permission [to be temporarily
absent from Cambodia]. So what do you think, this is democracy or not? The majority
has to work for the minority? No way. I am for democracy... If America, champion
of democracy, doesn't think so, I think America should go back to basics. Don't come
and tell us; we should tell them. We should tell America how democracy works. They
are the ones who teach us and now they turn around and say that's undemocratic. I
think they should go back and learn again.
In the interests of justice, are you eager to see proper investigations into events
like the March 30 grenade attack, like the murder of Ho Sok?
Yes, I am.
Have you been able to speak to Hun Sen about this?
I spoke to him. He already suspended three generals who were responsible for the
death [of Ho Sok]. Well, they were not responsible but he was in [their] custody.
I cannot say too much about that, because when you talk about investigation, we should
talk about investigation. I should not influence that investigation in any way or
And the grenade attack, which no one has been arrested for?
In that case... we are yet to get the conclusion from the FBI. And the conclusion
of the FBI is not the only one. There is much other evidence. So please wait. There
are unsolved cases in America that last 40 years, 60 years, you know. I'll do it.
and Samdech Hun Sen will not object to that. That is sense, that is justice and that