Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen chides Suu Kyi on Rohingya, Greece’s Tsipras on hasty campaign promises

Hun Sen chides Suu Kyi on Rohingya, Greece’s Tsipras on hasty campaign promises

Prime Minister Hun Sen greets Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at an event last week in Brunei
Prime Minister Hun Sen greets Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at an event last week in Brunei. Facebook

Hun Sen chides Suu Kyi on Rohingya, Greece’s Tsipras on hasty campaign promises

Prime Minister Hun Sen broke his avowed silence on Myanmar’s “Rohingya issue” to make a political point – and fresh election promises – at a university graduation ceremony yesterday.

The premier in February made assurances that “Cambodia disagrees with the attempt to internationalise the Rohingya issue, considering it as an internal issue of Myanmar”, citing Asean’s principle of “non-interference”. Yesterday, however, he appeared to change his tune speaking to graduating students at the Cambodian University for Specialties.

“In Myanmar there is a problem known as ‘Rohingya’,” he said, adding Myanmar wouldn’t allow the use of the word “Rohingya” and insisted on “Bengali”.

He described the current situation as a “humanitarian crisis of refugees”.

More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since August 25, after Rohingya militants attacked security posts in Rakhine state, igniting a vicious response from the military. Villages have been razed, people have been raped and shot, and the UN’s top rights official has described Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, spent 15 years under house arrest and was long idolised as an incarnation of liberal democracy and human rights, but has recently fallen out of favour and been stripped of international accolades due to her response – or lack thereof – to the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya.

Although he did not name her, Hun Sen yesterday appeared to criticise Suu Kyi’s leadership.

“The politicians in some countries ... make extreme promises and finally, now when they hold the power, they cannot [fulfil them],” he said. “Some countries promise to end the discrimination towards the ethnic minority, but now that country is suffering with ethnic problems and the previous ceasefire also failed, so the fighting just began again.”

The criticisms come just days after Hun Sen met State Counsellor Suu Kyi in Brunei, with pictures of the pair posted to the premier’s Facebook page on Saturday.

Representatives at the Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached. Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry declined to comment as he was unaware of the meeting or the premier’s remarks.

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony yesterday on Phnom Penh's Diamond Island.
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony yesterday on Phnom Penh's Diamond Island. Facebook

Government spokesman Phay Siphan was also reluctant to comment in detail as he had not heard Hun Sen’s speech, adding that the matter was “very sensitive”.

“It used to be that we, according to Asean principles, we did not allow ourselves to interfere with internal affairs” of fellow member states, he said, although he noted that the government was aware of “the UN asking Myanmar to do something [about the issue]”.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said that “Myanmar deserves heavy criticism for horrible abuses against the Rohingya”, and would have been better equipped had it allowed the UN to set up a rights office there. He added that Hun Sen was actually said to have advised then-junta leader Thein Sein against allowing such an office, noting that if he had, the UN would now be able to investigate where Suu Kyi has no control over the military.

“I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on the fact that he mentioned the Rohingya because when a leader is prone to rambling speeches like [Prime Minister] Hun Sen, every topic gets covered eventually,” he wrote.

“The old adage about rocks and denizens of glass houses is so very applicable here. But in Hun Sen’s case, it’s the ethnic Vietnamese who are stateless and systematically discriminated against, with the Ministry of Interior now talking about stripping up to 70,000 Vietnamese of allegedly fraudulent citizenship documents.”

Hun Sen yesterday noted such crises happen in other countries too but did not acknowledge his own government’s pending deportation of Montagnard asylum seekers, or the Ministry of Interior plan to strip allegednon-Cambodians of their citizenship.

“If he really wants to be different from Suu Kyi, why not recognise people who have lived in Cambodia for generations as full and equal citizens?” Robertson asked

Hun Sen also took aim at Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras yesterday, accusing him of failing to resolve tax and debt issues as promised. He went on to say that state leaders are “required to have a long-term vision and do it right, not just a sudden [promise] based on the stage of election campaigns”.

“State management is not just propaganda to get ballots, but it requires a thorough consideration ranging from the budget and whether it can be sustained or not.”

The premier then went on to roll out his latest election promise – a $200 baby bonus for civil servants, police and members of the army, with $400 for twins and $600 for triplets.

The new bonuses, due to start in January 2018, are double what Hun Sen promised to garment workers last month, and are the latest populist perks to be doled out ahead of next year’s crucial national election.

Of the more than 92,000 women in the civil service, army and police, he anticipated 10,844 of them would give birth in 2018, and estimated the bonuses would cost the government around $2.1 million per year. He expected the garment worker pledge to cost $10 million, which would cover 100,000 births each year among the industry’s 700,000-strong, mostly female workforce.

The total sum of $12.1 million is almost equal to the entire 2017 budget for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Government spokesman Siphan stressed the pledge represented the government’s “obligation” to help people, and was “not propaganda for voting”.

“We do [this] every year, every month. It doesn’t matter that the government sees the election coming … It’s routine,” he said.

San Chey, head of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, welcomed the premier’s promise, but urged it to be extended to women working in entertainment, who were often discriminated against during pregnancy. He also said the move was a clear attempt to win over voters.

“For the politician, they see the political interests and the 2018 national election is approaching,” he said.

Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Son Chhay said there were a number of Hun Sen’s own promises left unfulfilled.

“Based on our observation, some tasks, he can achieve them, but some he cannot, such as forestry crime – he said that if he could not stop the forestry crime, he would behead himself,” Chhay said.

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng

MOST VIEWED

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is