The Australian government has said it will use an upcoming Asean summit in Sydney to confront Prime Minister Hun Sen about his remarks aimed at Australian protesters, which continued on Friday as he goaded them by claiming they had “fallen into his trap” after they burned his effigy last month.
The spat began on February 21 when Hun Sen warned would-be protesters not to burn his photo, or he would follow them home and “beat” them.
Protesters promptly took up the challenge and burned effigies bearing the premier’s face.
Speaking at an event on Koh Pich on Friday, Hun Sen described the Australian protesters as “crazy and stupid”.
“Just one poke, and they forget all their work and just only go to burn Hun Sen’s images. Therefore, you played Hun Sen’s game that he drew for you to play,” he said.
“In fact, speaking truly and clarifying for you, you are being tricked by Hun Sen.”
He added: “Do not play with Hun Sen, you are still very weak.”
Despite repeated requests for comment over the past week and an accumulation of opposition politicians denouncing Hun Sen’s comments, the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs has remained silent on the exchanges. However, at a Senate Estimates hearing in Australia, Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson signalled Hun Sen would be spoken to about his violent rhetoric during his upcoming visit for the Australian-Asean Special Summit on March 17 to 18.
“The summit will be used for the [Australian] prime minister and ministers actually to engage their counterparts or aspects of our relationship, including the matter that you’ve raised today,” the representative told Senator Penny Wong.
Julie Heckscher, a first assistant secretary for the foreign department’s Southeast Asia division, said Australian Ambassador Angela Corcoran had met with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to discuss the issue.
“It’s been made clear that the threats are violent, that there’s a freedom of protest, freedom of expression in Australia and that threats on Australian soil are not acceptable to the Australian government,”
Heckscher said. She did not specify any other action Australia made in response to the threats. “Certainly when one government expresses concerns about certain comments that have been made to another government, I think implicit in that is a comment on what kind of action is needed.”
Senator Wong said: “Some might say stronger words might be required.”
“What is deeply concerning about this is this seems to be the second occasion in which activities in Australia whether in relation to the opposition leader or protesters, is being used either, in one case, arrest, or in this case, public threats, by the Cambodian leadership,” she said. “That is a concern.”
Speaking on Saturday, Hun Sen seemed to once again briefly threaten to boycott the summit before quickly switching gears.
“People who call for demonstrations come from four countries: the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Therefore, be careful; if those four do not go, it will end!” he said, claiming Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was informed of Duterte’s planned absence.
“I still go to meet people there because there are more than 1,000 people that I planned to meet,” he said.
In his speech on Friday, Hun Sen also said he was open to negotiating with “anybody” not facing legal charges, ruling out any dialogue with self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and jailed former CNRP head Kem Sokha.
“When there is [Rainsy] there is no Sen. When there is Sen, there is no [Rainsy],” he said.
While he won’t be in Australia during the summit, Rainsy said yesterday he is “always available” to meet with Hun Sen’s government to negotiate “a peaceful solution to this unprecedented crisis, a solution that would be acceptable to both sides, with international guarantees”.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he could not speak definitively for his prime minister, but believed Hun Sen would be open to speaking to an opposition representative, so long as that person is not facing legal charges.
Siphan also dismissed any suggestion that the premier held sway over existing charges against the opposition leaders, or the Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve the CNRP.
“According to the rule of law, that decision is decided by the courts . . . He’s not involved in that,” Siphan said.