Prime Minister Hun Sen again sought to portray himself as the defender of peace in the Kingdom on Saturday, this time citing as proof his level-headed management of the fighting that broke out around Preah Vihear temple on the Thai border.
Speaking to voters at the inauguration of a school in Kampot province, the premier said that his decision to wait 100 hours before responding to Thai rocket fire with rockets of his own forced a ceasefire, and spared the rest of the country an all-out war.
“There were many suspicions about why Hun Sen did not order a counter-attack while there was heavy shelling by the Thai army,” the prime minister said. “What was the situation we should choose at the time? And we didn’t have a good option or a bad option; the choice was only to choose the least disastrous situation.
“A small mistake in decision-making, and the war would have been sparked along the Thai-Cambodian border, which would have caused a disaster for the entire the nation,” he added.
The opposition at the time, Hun Sen continued, had taken a hawkish stance, and encouraged retaliation, but he had chosen to be patient instead, conferring with all his border commanders rather than immediately retaliating with BM-21 rockets.
“Just 17 minutes after I ordered the counter-attack, the Thai defence minister called for a negotiation for a ceasefire,” Hun Sen said, crediting the peace to his three-pronged “triangle” strategy of using only small defensive weapons, calling on the United Nations and filing a complaint to the International Court of Justice.
Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann, however, said yesterday that he remembered the events in 2008 very differently, and said that Hun Sen was far from a peacemaker.
“He’s the one who cannot avoid war,” Sovann said. “Everybody saw the fighting at Preah Vihear. At the time, my boss, Sam Rainsy, he was the one who recommended to the government to use international law at the United Nations.
“Before the war broke out, we wanted them to take the case to the court as soon as possible, but they did not listen to the opposition, and that is why the war broke out and led to the loss of life of civilians and soldiers,” he added.
Sovann went on to say that when it comes to the eastern border with Vietnam – long a major issue for the opposition – the CNRP would “not use bullets, but we do use our political will” to prevent Vietnamese encroachment. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE