Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Son Chhay denies he's a spy

Son Chhay denies he's a spy

Son Chhay denies he's a spy

Born on the first day of 1956 in Siem Reap, Son Chhay received his graduate

and post-graduate degrees in South Australia where he remained as a school teacher

and ex-pat Cambodian activist until 1993. A former head of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic

Party's finance department, he sought refuge in Adelaide after the 1997 coup. Now

a senior parliamentarian for the Sam Rainsy Party, he has been a strident government

critic for many years. On December 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen alleged that Chhay

"was his little spy" and had accepted $10,000 to work as an informant.

Hun Sen's accusation was later confirmed by senior CPP officials present at the time.

Chhay wrote to Charles McDermid on December 28 about the prime minister, politics,

and espionage.

What do you think about Hun Sen's statement that you "were his little spy?"

Let us remember that Hun Sen has been involved in many warfares as a person who has

great experience in commanding armies, and still considers himself a kind of "warrior,"

and as a result he has developed the effective practice of using whatever means to

destroy his opponents; typical in communist strategy.

One kind of practice has a special saying in Khmer "Dot oy kloch, roch oy chhao,"

which means if you can not make use of it, destroy it. So this "spy" thing

is not just to be used as a strategy to divide my party but also to destroy my political

career as well.

What will be the fallout from this situation?

I think it is a good thing that this "spy" thing has come out in public

because it has been used to threaten me many times in the past, including in 2001

when a note was dropped off at my house (which I consequently reported to the UN

Human Rights office) before I was illegally removed from my position as Chair of

the National Assembly Committee in charge of Telecommunications for exposing corruption

within the Ministry of Communications. And, the same year, a note with tapes, containing

my one-off conversation with Hun Sen during my peace initiative in 1997, was also

sent to my party head office.

My mistake, that led to his allegation, was that I accepted $10,000 when I returned

to Cambodia around September 1997 with my own initiative to find a solution to the

political crisis in lobbying with the "power-holder" of the country at

that time I was informed at the time that MPs who did not leave the country after

the July 1997 coup had received payment. Because not accepting the money would have

been seen as a negative reaction to what I understood was a goodwill gesture and

it would be hard for me to convince Hun Sen that I was genuine in getting him to

compromise in allowing exile politicians to return and organize the elections in

1998. I was very proud of my efforts during this difficult period in helping to reach

a resolution.

Why would Hun Sen point you out as his "spy" to the Council of Ministers?

What does he gain by this?

From what I heard, it was not only myself that was mentioned at the Council of Ministers


There were other political figures also mentioned with one type or another type of

threat and insult. The language used at this meeting was unpleasant and not how you

would expect a cabinet of ministers to behave. The strategy was to instill fear among

all members of the cabinet that if they do not behave with certain expectations be

aware of what can happen to them.

What kind of leader would actually admit to hiring spies for $10,000? Is this

a common practice in Cambodian politics?

I do not know, since I have never been a spy at any point in my life, but it has

raised everyone's eyebrows to learn that our country's leader is running the country

based on information he is getting from his "spies" and not from his knowledge

of how the country should be managed and focusing his effort, as it should be, on

social justice, well-being of the people and human security.

What did the Prime Minister mean when he said "you can talk, but not too


[It meant] You can talk to maintain the façade of democracy in Cambodia but

not to touch the nerve of the real issues that affect the country and the people.

Is it true, as election monitor Hang Punthea says, that you have never been "pro-government?"

I have never been pro- any of the governments since 1993 even though I would consider

myself to have provided over the years constructive criticism to encourage the government

to be more accountable to the Cambodian people.

In early 1995, I was informed by the UN Human Rights officials at the time that myself

and Mr Kem Sokha were in danger. There was a murder attempt on our lives by military

personnel. While Mr Kem Sokha and his family left the country with the help of an

international organization, I could not do so since my wife was still working in

the country. Therefore at this critical time I tempered my criticism at the government

for a certain period to protect my family.

Sadly, after all these years, the people in power show little political will to change

in the manner that would ensure both the vision and commitment necessary, as a government,

to induce positive development for Cambodia including introducing much needed legal

reforms such as anti-corruption legislation put forward as a bill by myself back

in 1994 but instead continue to focus only on power and money, and there appears

to be no room for anything else.

What would you like to see happen - politically - in Cambodia in 2007?

For 2007, I would like to see the ruling party change their attitude to promote a

free and fair election so that people will be able to gain some level of protection

by whoever are elected into the public office, especially the commune council, instead

of being abused time after time where election results have not produced anything

better for their everyday life.

Our national institutions, such as the Judiciary, Armed Forces, Parliament, the Constitutional

Council, the National Electoral Commission, should also be strengthened so that whoever

will win the 2008 election is able to take over the responsibility of managing the

country without any intimidation or interference.

What are the biggest issues facing Cambodia today? Is the ruling party doing enough

to combat them?

The biggest issues are poverty, unemployment, corruption, abuse of power, fear, drug

abuse and social division.

The people have been divided, which is again reminiscent of the Pol Pot era where

the people who were pro the ruling party would be protected and rewarded while others

will be treated as the enemy of the state and open to abuse.

The CPP appear to lack the ability and political will to solve these issues and therefore,

on the contrary, the situation is worsening.

In your opinion, will Sam Rainsy ever be prime minster of Cambodia?

Rainsy would be the best choice to be prime minister of Cambodia right now. But there

are many obstacles ahead of us, starting from an election process that is currently

biased to the armed forces and the courts.


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