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Insight into a tactician

Insight into a tactician

The interview account published in the Post recently reveals much of Mr. Hun Sen

the tactician, if not the philosopher. In the light of his brilliant career and a

series of recent successes over his non-communist adversaries it might be worthwhile

to highlight some of the factors which I believe had molded his personality and continue

to shape his conduct. His operating philosophy - to know reality - forms the

hard core of a doctrine that enabled his meteoric rise to power at the expense of

several gray-haired colleagues, becoming Foreign Minister at the age of twenty-nine

and Premier at thirty-five or thereabouts.

I too plowed through Bun Chan Mol's book, Charek Khmer or Khmer Traits, as a child

somewhere back in the Seventies. In it no positive traits were mentioned. Perhaps,

it seemed only natural to the author who was made to endure imprisonment and, after

his release, banishment from a country he loved that such traits inevitably equaled

negative traits. Sadly, they are still very much alive and if anything have been

much enhanced through Cambodia's contact with the international communist movements

in the first half of this century.

Further, despite attempts by some writers to distinguish between various strands

of Indochinese communism, I believe that they are all rooted in a common origin.

External influences were assimilated into the indigenous movement because they were

useful to the movement as practical mechanisms which helped to boost its effectiveness.

These infancies consisted of left-wing French radicalism which placed emphasis on

the seizure of state power the Stalinist way and, in particular, the use of conspiracies

in an effort to weaken the enemy's social base by means of spurious cohabitations

or alignments with all disaffected forces, and the combination of Maoist and Vietnamese

revolutionary practice. The 1993 election was the only significant 'setback' suffered

by Hun Sen in the course of his career.

The CCP, through its forerunners the SoC and the PRK, had labored to transform Cambodia's

socio-political landscape since its conception in 1979 to create an environment in

which it could survive permanently.

The Vietnamese were, for one, fed up with what they perceived as the recurring recalcitrant

theme of Cambodian nationalism and pledged to make their position in the country

'irreversible'. This environment was to be forged by implementing a few pivotal programs

which entailed reinstating the market and land redistribution as well as mass mobilization

aimed at eradicating traces of 'reactionary' appeal in Khmer society.

With virtually all of the country's resources at its disposal, plus a disciplined

party network established over a decade, the CPP had every reason to believe they

would emerge victorious from a democratically held election. Did not Hun Sen himself

forecast a landslide and even promise to hand over power honorably should the party

be outvoted? Anyway, it was a mistaken move and he was devastated by it (his face

at the time seemed to show it). This setback shook the foundation of his enormous

self-esteem and undermined the faith he had in his own power of judgment. He underestimated

the strength of those reactionary impulses he thought he had cast out for good.

Nevertheless, he never exposed his most important piece to unnecessary danger (his

battle-hardened realism was too strong for that). He learned much from this - his

first encounter with democracy - and concluded that his political future could be

more safely invested elsewhere.

Against this backdrop his opponents must look to him like the political infants that

they in reality are, always at one another's throat and in the cases of Sam Rainsy's

expulsion, the BLDP split and the constant intimidation of the liberal press, have

gone out of their way to speed up their own demise.

But, I also believe that Hun Sen has one fear which may be his greatest - and I certainly

do not mean his wife! If a man's greatest enemy is himself then beside himself it

has to be the enemy whose traits, areas of experience and state of mind resemble

those of his own - and that man I am sorry to disappoint you is not I. He is none

other than Mr Pol Pot whose existence still haunts Hun Sen. Press reports suggest

that Hun Sen sees Pol Pot in just about everyone - in Sam Rainsy, government critics,

hostile press, balloon vendors...

Exactly a year ago I appealed through the Post for a commonsense middle-course approach

to resolving the nations' socio-ecological crises. These are basic laws governing

the natural world with which the social world is inextricably and delicately bound.

I was then as I am now pained by the continuing abuse of this ecosystem.

The Mekong, its tributaries, the Tonle Sap lake and the rivers which connect it to

Pailin and other formerly densely forested regions constitute this country's vital

arteries, its sole life source. They are the provider of Cambodia's staple diets

rice and fish-shelters, medicines, honey, game, fuel and they ensure regular seasonal

cycles such as rainfall, sufficient levels of flooding for rice cultivation and so


Even as late as the beginning of this century, forest land claimed up to about sixty

per cent of total land cover making the country among the most forested regions on

earth. Remember Angkor Wat was completely covered by the jungle when locals led Henry

Mahout to "rediscover" it?

Cambodia is fortunate in two crucial respects. First, warfare has kept unregulated

commercialization at bay for two decades and as a result her basic rural character

is preserved (no law would have prevented the damage done to the environment, especially,

where commercial logging was concerned. For evidence see neighboring Thailand or

Malaysia and Indonesia). Second, Cambodia is blessed by the presence of sympathetic

friends (Malaysian businessmen apart) offering both cash and counsel (although, it

is regrettable that the Royal Government appears to desire the former more than the


When the government first introduced the crack-down on illegal logging even the usually

vocal press and NGO community were fooled by the measure. This is not to say that

I doubt the sincerity of those behind it, but rather the required wisdom was evidently

not there to see it through.

The entire bureaucratic structure was solidly entrenched in habits and mentalities

nurtured by decades of one-party tradition which renders such measures as nonsense.

Besides, what worries environmentalists the most is not so much the anarchic as the

systematic legal dimension of the problem. Even one or two large concessions with

the full blessing of the law, given enough time, can wipe out the entire forest stock.

Thus, viewed from this angle, and whether by accident or design, the CPP is an alien

force in the body of Khmer politics. As long as it locks horns with the Khmer Rouge,

its mortal foe, it will continue to devour and paralyze the body of Khmer nation

from within.

It is about time that responsible Cambodians come to accept that the only road to

peace and above all national survival in the long run lies in laying a foundation

- one that can not be forged in a climate of fear in accordance with some enlightened

utility theories but, rather in the very hearts and minds of men and in the best

spirit of a dignified humanity.

So my final prayer is: may all men look to one another as brothers and for guidance

may they look to history and not experience alone. I rest my case.
- Marith Pen, London, England.


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