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Red carpet, not red card, for Hun Sen in Canberra

Red carpet, not red card, for Hun Sen in Canberra


Lauren Cross

Many laws, Hun Sen, but little justice, is the message these diminutive protesters sought to convey in Canberra last week.

Cambodia's national flag flew along the boulevards in Canberra, as the Australian

Prime Minister, John Howard, gave Prime Minister Hun Sen a rousing state welcome

that included a 21-gun salute.

It was a rewarding trip for Hun Sen, who returned home from his six-day official

visit on October 14 with a commitment from Australia of a further $92 million in

aid over the next five years.

Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, had a busy diplomatic and social schedule, which

included a private lunch in a garden overlooking Sydney's Opera House.

The key issue for the two prime ministers was cementing rapidly growing trade ties.

Although Australia's trade with Cambodia is still small, it rose by 81 percent in


After meetings at Parliament House, Howard and Hun Sen announced the ratification

of an agreement to prospect for bauxite deposits in Mondulkiri and Rattanakkiri provinces.

The Australian resources giant BHP Billiton will partner with Mitsubishi Corp, with

initial studies and exploration work expected to be complete by the end of 2008,

Howard said.

"This deal will represent a huge commitment in exploration and potential development

in the mineral resources of Cambodia," he told reporters.

Howard gave no further details, but a BHP Billiton spokeswoman said the two companies

will also look at the potential for constructing an alumina refinery in Cambodia

if bauxite mining proves feasible.

Australia will also commit $30 million dollars over five years to strengthen the

Cambodian criminal justice system in preparation for the Khmer Rouge Trials, the

two prime ministers announced.

At the joint press conference, Hun Sen responded to questions over what many say

is the slow-progress of the trials.

"We have the law," he said. "We have the financial assistance. We

have the personnel,who have started their work already, including the judge and the


"The question of when the prosecutors will start the charges, and when the judges

start the hearings, is in the hands of the court of law now."

Hun Sen promised to send about 30 soldiers to East Timor, to join the Australian

peacekeepers there, with Australia to supply equipment and materials for the Cambodian


This was Hun Sen's first official visit to Australia. Throughout his trip, he wore

a sharp suit and a smile for the cameras, but made few public comments.

About 40 Cambodian-Australians staged a peaceful protest outside a state dinner at

the ANZ Bank headquarters in Melbourne, unhappy that a raft of recent human rights

abuse allegations against the regime was overlooked during the visit.

United Nations report

A recent United Nations report into Cambodia found evidence of long-standing suppression

of political parties, subversion of the judiciary, corruption and illegal land seizures.

The UN special human rights envoy to Cambodia, Yash Ghai, concluded that violations

were systemic, and not due to a lack of knowledge or resources.

"Many policies of the government have subverted the essential principles of

democracy and due process, deprived people of their economic resources and means

of livelihood, and denied them their dignity," Ghai said in his report to the

UN High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Members of the Australian Cambodian community were angry, but were also afraid to

speak out, said protest organizer Him Mara.

Him accused the Cambodian government of trying to intimidate the protesters, by sending

a government official from inside the building to photograph people's faces.

"It might work in Cambodia, but it doesn't work here," he said.

"Even so, a lot of people here are afraid, because they have relatives in Cambodia,

and they might want to go back."

A senior Austalian opposition MP, Simon Crean, whose electorate of Hotham is home

to many Cambodian immigrants, joined in criticizing the Australian government for

its "soft approach."

Crean said he relayed the Cambodian community's concerns to Hun Sen directly during

a meeting in Canberra.

"We took the opportunity to raise a number of concerns, particularly those highlighted

by the UN envoy's report into Cambodia - and to urge the Prime Minister to make renewed

efforts to promote democratic values and freedoms, and human rights, as well as good

governance principles," Crean said.

He said he was unable to report Hun Sen's response.

The Sam Rainsy Party's representative in Australia, Bak Long, said he was disappointed

that Howard did not raise the findings of the UN report.

Long said Australia, as Cambodia's third-largest aid donor, should adopt a more critical


"Japan and the United States have become much more vocal about the political

and human rights situation in Cambodia," he said.

"It is quite hypocritical of Australia to push for improvements in accountability

and democracy in countries such as the Solomon Islands, and not do the same for Cambodia,"

he said.

Australia and Cambodia also signed a prisoner exchange treaty.

The exchange program would allow 13 Cambodians serving sentences in Australian prisons

and five Australian inmates in Cambodia to serve the remainder of their sentences

in their home countries, an Australian government statement said.


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