Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Surin clarifies his comments

Surin clarifies his comments

Surin clarifies his comments

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said Tuesday that quotes attributed to him in media reports that have caused anger among Cambodian officials were “taken totally out of context”.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Surin said he was misquoted in a March 5 media report that suggested he was “very concerned” with recent Cambodian military exercises.

Instead, Surin said he was expressing concern over ongoing border tensions between Cambodia and Thailand.

“The question directed at me was of a general nature, and my responses were with specific reference to the prevailing situation along the Cambodian-Thai border which I have expressed on many occasions before,” Surin said in the statement.

The original media report from Bernama, the Malaysian news agency, used Surin’s comments to suggest ASEAN fears last week’s rocket tests “may send a wrong signal”.

“We are very concerned with such development,” the report quoted Surin as saying, noting that he declined to elaborate on the issue: “I have no details. I have to look into the details first.”

The comments provoked accusations from Cambodian officials that Surin had overstepped his role by commenting on a member country’s internal affairs. Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested Surin had “abused” his role as secretary general and was “not suitable” for the position.

In Tuesday’s statement, Surin said he had no knowledge at the time of the rocket tests. The statement said Surin expressed his “deep regret” the issue had sparked “a very unfortunate and unwarranted effect”.

A government spokesman, however, said the ASEAN secretary general should not even be discussing the border issue with Thailand, let alone last week’s military exercise.

“He’s not supposed to do any statement or communicate with the media to show his position at all,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said. “He has to be neutral and professional. That’s what we wanted.”

Phay Siphan suggested Surin knew what he was discussing when he was quoted in the media report last week.

“He’s supposed to be professional and know what kinds of words, what kinds of quotations to use,” he said. “I understand the media. If he did like this, then he takes advantage of the media.”

Though Surin went out of his way to clarify the reported comments, he has generally been part of a trend towards a more vocal ASEAN, said Chris Roberts, a lecturer at the University of Canberra.

“There has been a pattern over the last 10 years of the secretariat being more assertive in commenting on internal matters that are a problem to the region,” he said in an interview before Surin’s statement was released last night.

Roberts suggested ASEAN was in the middle of “an identity crisis”, with states including Cambodia pushing for traditional non-interference and “quiet diplomacy”, and others advocating for more open discussion on regional issues.

“We are seeing a push for change. The problem with those [traditional] values is that ASEAN hasn’t been able to address controversial issues. There will always be one member willing to object,” Roberts said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy stopped in Paris from boarding Thai flight

    Airline officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday prevented Sam Rainsy from boarding his flight to Bangkok ahead of his announced return to Cambodia on Saturday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier in the day assured Phnom Penh residents that there would be

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Prayut indicates no entry into Thailand for CNRP’s Rainsy

    Cambodian government officials on Wednesday welcomed the position of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after he indicated that Sam Rainsy would not be allowed to return to Cambodia through Thailand. “According to our commitment to Asean, we will not interfere in each other’s internal