Second Prime Minister Hun Sen talks to Matthew Grainger about casino
deals, the Khmer Rouge, political power, international aid and his own future.
Phnom Penh Post: Now that the Naga Resort casino has been opened,
are you happy with the deal that has been struck with Ariston?
Hun Sen: We have signed the agreement with Ariston not only for the
purpose of a casino but to establish the infrastructure of Sihanoukville. What
we are pleased with in the agreement is the increase of electricity supply,
development of an industrial zone, the development of the airport, and the
development of the infrastructure in Sihanoukville. The casino is just a small
portion within a substantial investment agreement, but even though its a small
portion we realize its importance and the benefits we will get from it. First
the casino can attract tourists to enjoy the country; we could also make use of
the profit we get from the casino for national reconstruction. What we would
like to prevent is Cambodian people from playing in that casino.
Q: Ariston says it will take one year at least before it is able to
begin development in Sihanoukville. Is this fast enough?
A: I see the time is suitable for all these things to proceed, because
within this package there are small agreements still to be signed in order to
proceed. For example, related to the supply of electricity and building of the
airport, roads, industrial zone, each of these need agreements to be signed
before plans are carried out. We have set up our own task force in order to
prepare all these agreements.
Q: Relating to the Ariston deal, do you believe CDC acted on too
wide an authority; and should this be changed; and can it be done under the
current CDC leadership?
A: I think that what has been done by the CDC conforms with the
mandate [it has to] the duty and trust to the Royal government. CDC has been
authorized as the one-stop agency with reference to investment, [but] the final
decision is still in the hands of the Royal government, because the people who
sign such an agreement have to get the power entrusted by the Royal government.
So the final decision is with the Royal government, there is no necessity to
change any powers or structures of the CDC because it is now doing things
according to duty and trust. On the contrary, CDC has facilitated a lot of our
work as a one-stop service.
Q: So there is no suggestion in the casino deal that the CDC moved
beyond it's powers?
A: There is no such suggestion because I also keenly followed such
matters from beginning to end and I could even say that I am one of the people
responsible for all the government has been doing. I have to defend CDC which is
under my responsibility.
Q: Do you agree that Sam Rainsy should be removed from the National
Assembly, something Rainsy says is being pushed by Prince Ranariddh?
A: With the question of having opposition, or not having opposition,
it is the right of the people to do that. It has been clearly stipulated in the
constitution that Cambodia is now in pluralism. For me, this is the time to say
that Cambodia is a free country, Cambodia now practices pluralism. With
reference to the candidacy of Sam Rainsy in the National Assembly, I think it is
the internal affair of one party which has to be resolved by that party. For me,
in the other party, I will not interfere in the internal affairs of another
sovereign party, but if this subject could be tabled for discussion in the
National Assembly I think CPP Parliamentary members would discuss it thoroughly.
One has to remember that the 1993 election was a proportional election with
candidates standing on behalf of the party. With regard to CPP, if there were
any members of the National Assembly and they resigned from the CPP, then they
should be out of the National Assembly too because they would no longer be
members of the CPP. This is just my own thinking, but in the case of Sam Rainsy,
this has to be decided by Funcinpec.
Q: There is less being heard now of the Khmer Rouge, and seemingly
less too of national reconciliation. Are there still positive steps to reconcile
with the Khmer Rouge?
A: The Khmer Rouge are no longer an important problem for Cambodia,
the important problems are social and economic development. Regarding the
question of integrating the Khmer Rouge into society for national
reconciliation, that is a bit out of date. The Khmer Rouge have already been
outlawed by the National Assembly. The Khmer Rouge is no more a political or
military organization like they had been within the SNC before the election.
They are no more the counterpart for talks with the elected Royal government.
What we have to think is that we cannot accept the political organization of the
Khmer Rouge but we can accept some people within the ranks to integrate within
society. This is the acceptable level when we refer to national reconciliation.
We have already integrated thousands of rank and file, and Khmer Rouge officials
and their families into society. We will pursue this policy and re-integrate
those people to come to live within society. Right now you see the Khmer Rouge
is not a problem, or an issue we have to talk about every time, we have to talk
more about social and economic development. For me, I don't believe how wide we
have to open the door for Khmer Rouge leaders to be integrated into society. For
a long time their habit has been to live outside society, they have been living
in the forest in the 50s, 60s even in the early 70s. Even when they were in
power in 1975 they lived outside the people, and killed people. Later, even when
we opened the door and they had legal presence, they did not come into society.
Why, that they are now illegal, should they come? So we put it aside and solve
this stage by stage, but that does not mean we will integrate them within the
Royal government. They are no more a political or military organization. We can
say again, this is a bit out of date.
Q: (Co-Interior Minister) Sar Kheng says Cambodia's biggest problem
is corruption. Do you agree with Sar Kheng?
A: That is just the opinion raised by His Excellency Sar Kheng
himself, but for me I think economic and social development... there is nothing
to refer to corruption. It is the chicken and egg, we don't know what comes
first. The main issue is to develop society and the economy. I still remember
during the Pol Pot time people had nothing except rice porridge, so people had
nothing to think of. Even the young men and young women when they met each
other, they had no feelings because they had no strength. Right now they have
better living conditions, they have time to think of good clothes and other
things. So I still hold the view that social and economic development is the
most important question to deal with, and this is the view of the two Prime
Ministers together. The question is that if there is no rice in the warehouse,
how could a thief steal the rice?
Q: Regarding international aid: Can you see a time when Cambodia
could stand on its own; or, now that the United States has admitted its
"mistake" relating to the Vietnam war, is there a case that the United States
and others should being doing even more for Cambodia?
A: First we have to be grateful to the international community for all
the assistance to Cambodia, because this provides all the important basics for
our proceeding. But we have to realize that we cannot always rely on
international aid. What is important is that we have to continue working hard so
that in time we can stand on our own two feet. Therefore we have to make the
best use of the opportunity provided to us more for our own development. Right
now we have to strive to seek a balance between supply and demand, especially of
foodstuffs. It is important to resolve the question of providing food to the
people first. We also realize that the international situation is more favorable
to us now than at any other time. Cambodia now has no enemies, only friends, and
they give us assistance. But we have to remember that there are many problems in
the world that require the assistance of rich countries. For example, the
problems you can see right now in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union,
Somalia, Rwanda, all these problems require assistance from the rich countries.
Besides this, each country has problems of it's own, such as the earthquake in
Kobe, Japan. So we realize that we have to make the best use of the political
opportunity provided to us now. About the second question, that right now
America has confessed its mistakes and whether America has to do more for
Cambodia. The important thing for us is not whether America has confessed its
mistake or not, because that is already history. We do not want even Japan,
America and France to admit their mistakes committed against us. And we do not
demand any countries pay [for] all the war they have waged in our country. What
we would like to have from them is their understanding of our difficulties over
the last two decades and give us assistance. So we are very grateful for all the
assistance given to us of which we will make the best use.
Q: In other countries, democratic countries, there are
always powers behind the leader. Leaders know who are their friends, and who are
not. Is it true that you can estimate if you have say 100 percent support from
every member of CPP, or must you constantly gauge who is supporting you and who
might not be?
A: For me its not like what you mention because I have been here 16
years among all the leaders of CPP. And by the way, I need not have ambition for
power nor would I like to prolong my authority or power. If one day I become the
out-of-date and meaningless man or cannot work for the nation I should walk out
of the job by myself. But I am pleased that the people support me to work for
them, this is the inexhaustible strength given to me. Within my party, they
trust me as their representative in the government; therefore, there is no need
for me to know this and that person, because right now in Cambodia there are too
many political parties. So the big question is to jointly work for the nation. I
mention this because I can even work with the people in the opposition, not only
the people who pursue the same policy. Without opposition it is hard to say we
have democracy, and without opposition it is hard to know whether what we are
doing is right or wrong. Opposition is like a mirror to reflect our
Q: It becomes a different question if there is opposition within
[the party]... it becomes personal in some ways and has to be resolved. You can
work with the [Funcinpec] opposition and democracy must have two sides, but
within the same party it becomes divisive. Is this a problem?
A: Lately I mention the opposition party, but within one party there
cannot be any opposition because each party has its own statutes within its own
internal regulations. Only by a congress can such statutes be amended. So anyone
who has been working against the principles of the CPP, if they do not resign
from the party they will be expelled by the party. So the question is different
between working with the opposition party and with opposition within one party.
If there is opposition within the one party then it shall not be a party.
Q: Funcinpec obviously has that division. Has CPP got any such
divisions, that might not be so public?
A: Within CPP, if I'm not mistaken, there was such a rumor for 10
years already of a "division" between Chea Sim and Hun Sen. But finally Chea Sim
and Hun Sen are [still] working together with good cooperation. So one has to
end the suspicion of any division within CPP. But the difference of opinion or
the different way of talking is democracy within one party. Within the CPP, the
members are not just "yes-men". Before we come to any decision we undergo a
thorough debate. Once the question is decided everyone has to take it, to follow
that decision and any person who goes against it will no longer be a member.
Q: You have personally been a leader for 16 years, do you see
yourself being a leader for another 16 years?
A: There is no certainty in human life. One of my advisors died just a
few days ago, he was just 48 years old. This advisor had sometimes discussed
with me about a 10-year or 20-year plan and I am very sorry he died so soon.
Yesterday I went to his native village to bring his corpse to be buried there. I
am also in the same case because I cannot be so certain about my future. And it
is more uncertain for a politician. If I am not dead I might leave my position
and work elsewhere. Only the farmers can maintain their roles as farmers from
the beginning to end, because they attach themselves to the land, to the farm
till they are dead. So I hope I will not stay too long.
Q: But you have been a leader over 16 years in one of the most
wide-changing political areas of the world; maybe some people will say you will
never leave politics or the power. Will you find it very difficult to work in
anything other than politics?
A: That is one difficult question to foresee the future, especially
for the politicians, some of whom are 80 years old, so if you compare them with
me, who is only 40 years old, then [it would seem that] I will never abandon
political life. In the 1993 elections I still remember some chiefs of parties
were aged 70 or 80 years. When I look at their biographies those people had been
involved in politics since they were in their 20s. So it seems to become a habit
in the practice of politics. For me I could not foresee myself, because I cannot
create my fate for myself. The question is the people, whether they support you
or not. They realize that 20 or 25 years ago I never dreamed of being a prime
minister, I seemed to be pushed by the situation. It seems we are forced by the
political situation, however it also relates to individual decisions too. But
leave my case to be decided by the people. For those who like to foresee the
future, let them say whether Hun Sen would like to stay or leave.
Q: The most important question, throughout history, is the
potential problem of Cambodia's borders with Thailand and especially Vietnam. Is
there any solution that has not yet been tried, and could it become a bigger
A: The question of Vietnamese in Cambodia is a question of no
question. For example some people talk about numbers of divisions of Vietnamese
armed forces in Cambodia, but it is not the time to mention that yet. Referring
to the question of Cambodia's border with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos we have set
up a national authority to be responsible for this question. It is led by the
co-president of the prime ministers. The principle for finding a solution is to
pursue the law. We have to undergo peaceful negotiations and I believe the
question is not more serious than that of the Khmer Rouge; it will not become
more serious and more serious.