Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen has drawn crititcism for his handling of the defections
of the remnants of the Khmer Rouge, particularly the surrender of Nuon Chea and Khieu
Samphan. Academic advisor to the the Documentation Centre of Cambodia Helen Jarvis
interviewed the Prime Minister on his KR strategy.
Hun Sen: stuck in the middle or savvy tactician?
Question: I am wondering about the reaction to your welcoming of Khieu Samphan
and Nuon Chea: if you had the chance to do it again, would you do it the same way?
Hun Sen: The focus of my strategy is to put an end to the political and military
organisation of the KR. If we could not do that, then we could not end the war and
bring justice and peace to the Cambodian people.
Without peace, justice cannot be found. I have said in the past, we should not talk
about how to cook the fish while it is still in the water - first you need to catch
In 1996, Asiaweek called me the grand master for my strategy to put an end to the
At the time I was much criticised, but was not in a position to respond. For the
sake of the nation we had to do it.
To destroy 70% of the KR forces, we needed to pay a price too - that was the amnesty
provided to Ieng Sary [in 1996]. My final goal was not to get Ieng Sary, but rather
to checkmate Brother Number One, Pol Pot, and to destroy the organisation of the
KR. And now we have put an end to the KR problem.
Before I welcomed these people, I had to take many risks - I had to go to the KR
zones in Samlot, Pailin and Malai.
This time I just welcomed Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan into my house - there is no
way they can kill me here.
Compare the way I received Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea and the way others have received
them in the past. I received these people as they surrendered to the government,
to live a life as normal citizens. From 1979 to 1994, others received Khieu Samphan
as head of state and even provided him with escort cars when he went with Pol Pot
and Ieng Sary to speak in New York at the UN.
They were received as equals with other heads of state. Before the 1993 elections,
when I met Khieu Samphan at the royal palace, I carried with me the Genocide Convention
of 1948. I read the articles of the Genocide Convention to Khieu Samphan and told
him: you have to be arrested.
Then, nobody did anything to Khieu Samphan! In fact, I was ordered by UNTAC [United
Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] to provide them with better security.
The ones who supported the Khmer Rouge in the past should be courageous enough to
state the facts. As for a trial [of people responsible for genocide and war crimes]
- we take it as a fait accompli. In my 1997 letter [to the UN requesting a trial]
I only referred to 1975-1979.
My position is: if they decide to stage such a trial, they can go ahead. I have given
no guarantees that anyone is exempt from trial. In a trial we need to lay all the
cards on the table.
We cannot hide anything. We have to ask who helped the Khmer Rouge to survive. Even
[former Singapore prime minister] Lee Kwan Yew cannot escape justice. He pressured
Prince Sihanouk to establish the tripartite government [in alliance with the KR]
on the border. Those who supported the KR and helped the KR should be concerned,
including those who had good relations in the last two years, which led to the 
fighting. If we talk about justice, everyone must have justice.
Question: Internationally, many of those who used to support the Khmer Rouge now
proclaim themselves against them. [What do you think of this].
Hun Sen: It is ridiculous.
In the Paris peace agreements, I accepted that the KR would be included, but I insisted
that we use the word genocide in the agreement, but they stopped me from doing that.
We were the only ones fighting the KR. The main purpose of all my activities is to
destroy the Khmer Rouge, to bring peace to Cambodia.
Once we have destroyed their organization, we can bring them to trial at any time.
When the Khmer Rouge still existed, with a strong political and military organization,
we were even pressured to include them in the political solution.
Question: What do you expect from the UN legal experts?
Hun Sen: They will give us a concrete recommendation on the way we can proceed. We
need both peace and justice. You can review all the documents from the trial in 1979
[In 1979, the Cambodian government tried Pol Pot and Ieng Sary in absentia]. We had
international lawyers join the trial in 1979. You cannot do better than that. Have
those who supported the KR now changed their mind? If so, then the 1979 trial is
recognised as legal, and the trial of the KR leaders has already been done, legitimising
the sentence imposed on them in 1979.
The verdict of the 1979 trial was recognised by the King in 1996, when he issued
a royal decree giving amnesty to Ieng Sary. We cannot hold a trial to try one or
two cases without connecting these to the earlier cases. I said this to the UN committee
of experts when they came to meet me [in November 1998]. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea
should be asked where they were before arriving in Pailin. Thailand kept denying
that for the last few days, but they cannot keep denying this all their life. I even
know Ta Mok's whereabouts now, but I will not disclose it if it is not necessary.
I refuse to accept his surrender. We have to arrest Ta Mok. If we arrest him, he
will disclose many secrets. I do not think he will accept being found guilty without
talking about other people.
Question: The 1979 trial has been disregarded internationally.
Hun Sen: It is political hypocrisy. A certain person came to see me the other
day - this person was responsible for providing weapons to the coalition on the border.
They recalled the situation when they pressed me to include the KR in the Paris peace
agreements, saying that if we did not do so, China would veto it.
That same person is now asking me now to lobby China not to use its veto in the Security
Council against the establishment of the court. Before the US and China were colluding
in supporting the Khmer Rouge.
The US now wants to use Hun Sen against China. I do not like to be the pawn of any
foreign country. Everyone would like Hun Sen to kick the ball. The US passes the
ball to Hun Sen to kick to China, and China passed the ball to Hun Sen to kick to
the US. It is not our aim to present obstacles to a trial but to present the reality,
so that justice can be done.
Everyone has the right to seek justice. They want to criticise me about K5 [a program
during the fighting against the KR in which civilians were sent to border regions
to assist the military]. If the US had not supported the Khmer Rouge, there would
have been no K5. If the US will not withdraw the HR533 [a bill calling for condemnation
of Hun Sen], then Hun Sen will not withdraw the case of what the US has done between
1979 and 1998. When the Khmer Rouge came to an end in 1979, if everyone had accepted
the fact and they had not been supported, there would have been no war.
Even the fighting of July 1997 also involved the Khmer Rouge. If a certain general
had slept only one hour late, then Khieu Samphan would have come here as a head of
state, not in surrenderer. Sihanouk was not able to control the Khmer Rouge - he
allowed them to imprison him and kill his family. So how could his son [Prince Ranariddh]
control the Khmer Rouge? The documents found [in Anlong Veng in 1998 and published]
by the Phnom Penh Post reveal their relationship with the Khmer Rouge, showing the
way they would share power, leaving the provincial, district and commune level as
the base for the KR. When I led the struggle against Pol Pot, they issued a warrant
of arrest. The KR called me a revisionist and a CIA agent. Then when I fled to Vietnam,
I was imprisoned for 22 days, accused of being a Khmer Rouge agent. In Moscow people
called me a liberal. In Paris people called me a communist. Now the country is at
peace. I have been working since we had only 70 people in Phnom Penh; now we have
a million people in Phnom Penh, and we also experience traffic jams! We have changed
from a command economy to a free market economy. We organised the July 1998 elections
by ourselves and now, finally, the results have been accepted internationally. How
could I arrest Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea at the time they surrendered, as some
people have demanded of me? I would like a court of law to issue a summons and for
them to appear before it. The king has said clearly that he will appear at a court
of law, even without being invited.