Lieutenant General John Sanderson – a retired senior Australian Army officer and former Force Commander of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) – praised the rapid development of Cambodia and its “huge successes” while also expressing his appreciation for the Kingdom’s contributions to global and regional affairs, especially as chair of ASEAN in 2022.

Sanderson made the remarks on April 27 during his meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh as part of his 10-day visit to Cambodia. He said he was excited to come back to Cambodia, a country which he had fond memories of and had made many friends.

Sanderson began his visit from April 23 to May 2 to mark the 30th anniversary of UNTAC and as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Cambodia.

“Cambodia has undergone great changes, especially Phnom Penh, which has developed beautifully along with rapid development throughout the country. Cambodia has also contributed to global and regional affairs, especially as the chair of ASEAN. This progress is a huge success for Cambodia,” Hun Sen’s Facebook post quoted Sanderson as saying.

The Australian government recognised Cambodia before it gained independence from France in 1953 and later contributed to the attainment of peace in the country as Australia was one of the first nations to abandon recognition of the Khmer Rouge at the UN.

“Australia is a country that recognised Cambodia before Cambodia gained independence. It is a country that helped Cambodia gain independence,” Hun Sen said.

At the meeting with Sanderson on April 26, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn appreciated Australia’s “significant” contribution, especially to Sanderson, in the peace process in Cambodia.

He recalled the achievements made by UNTAC in carrying out the main objectives of the Paris Peace Agreements, including the organisation of the general elections in 1993 despite the boycott by the Khmers Rouge and their continued guerrilla warfare.

After the withdrawal of UNTAC, Hun Sen said he launched his win-win policy that brought about national reconciliation, comprehensive peace and stability to the country in 1998.

Sokhonn also noted Cambodia’s pride in transforming from a recipient of help from UN peacekeepers to becoming a country that has so far contributed more than 8,000 soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions in eight countries in Africa and the Middle East.

The foreign ministry said in a press release on April 26 that Sanderson also commended the Cambodia for its successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign as well as for dispatching thousands of Cambodian military personnel to UN peacekeeping operations in different countries worldwide.

The Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said that on April 25, Sanderson received an honorary doctorate in peace from the University of Cambodia (UC).

UC president Kao Kim Hourn emphasised the important role Sanderson played in peacebuilding, stability and the development of Cambodia.

The embassy added that Australia was a key player in the negotiation of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which paved the way for the arrival of UNTAC.

Australian ambassador Pablo Kang tweeted on April 27 that he was “privileged” to accompany Sanderson to official meetings with Sokhonn and Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army.

Kang said discussions focused on international developments, the UNTAC period and the prospects for Cambodia’s future.