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Hun Sen says he, not Untac, brought peace to Cambodia in 90s

French army paratroopers stand at attention as local people watch the ceremony marking the full deployment of French Untac peacekeeping troops in 1992. Stefan Ellis/AFP
French army paratroopers stand at attention as local people watch the ceremony marking the full deployment of French Untac peacekeeping troops in 1992. Stefan Ellis/AFP

Hun Sen says he, not Untac, brought peace to Cambodia in 90s

Three days ahead of the highly politicised January 7 holiday marking the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday slammed the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) for its alleged failure to bring peace to Cambodia in the 1990s, instead claiming his own efforts had put a stop to warring factions.

But analysts yesterday said the peacekeeping mission, the most ambitious ever undertaken at the time, had brought “unity” to Cambodia by facilitating negotiations between the Khmer Rouge and the government, noting Hun Sen himself acted to ensure many of Untac’s failures.

Untac was established from the beginning of 1992 until September 1993 to bring the Paris Peace Accords, a 1991 document that enshrined multiparty democracy in Cambodia’s political system, into effect.

Speaking at the inauguration of a new Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital building in Phnom Penh, the premier yesterday said the country was still divided when the peacekeeping operation left.

“Untac spent around $2 billion to implement the Peace Paris Agreement, but . . . when Untac withdrew, it left Cambodia with two governments controlling two different parts [of the country],” he said.

Hun Sen added that Untac had “no ability” to enter Khmer Rouge strongholds in Cambodia’s northwest, citing a famous incident where two Khmer Rouge soldiers banned the head, deputy head and commander of Untac from entering the region.

Instead, Hun Sen claimed, peace came when he implemented his “win-win policy” between 1996 and 1998 by integrating Khmer Rouge holdouts into military and government positions. Around the same time, Hun Sen, then second prime minister to Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh, ousted the prince in bloody factional fighting.

Political analyst Meas Nee said the premier did not give enough credit to Untac.

“Like the current government, it had weak points, but . . . if there had been no international pressure, we would not have been able to find a way to sit at the negotiation table,” he said.

Analyst Lao Mong Hay said the remarks were the latest in a string of “anti-UN statements” and were an “insult” to those who had worked on the Paris Peace Accords.

Hun Sen sought to “undermine” and “marginalise” Untac, while at the same time “glorifying” January 7, the date when the Vietnamese army and Khmer Rouge defectors, including Hun Sen, ousted Pol Pot.

Despite some shortcomings of the Untac period, Mong Hay said without it and the peace accords, “Cambodia would continue to fight one another until the last man”.

Mu Sochua, a self-exiled deputy head of the recently dissolved opposition CNRP, said Untac brought “the seeds for democracy” by holding free and fair elections.

“All this is what the CPP is trying to put an end to very rapidly and effectively by taking Cambodia back to a one-party rule of oppression and intolerance,” she said.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the prime minister was deflecting from his political crackdown “because his banning of the CNRP and crackdown on civil society blatantly violates the treaty’s requirement that Cambodia must be a rights respecting, multiparty democracy”.

“Since he doesn’t want Cambodia to go that way, he’s decided to bury the accord under verbal attacks on it and Untac.”

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