Hun Sen: Cambodia's Mr. Justice?

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TIME ASIA, MARCH 22, 1999By TERRY McCARTHY Phnom PenhTIME: The U.S. is pushing you very hard on certain things. How do you feel about America as a country?
Hun Sen: I think it has changed, America, along with the others that once gave support to the Khmer Rouge. It's not me who has changed, but those who supported the Khmer Rouge 10 or 20 years ago. It took me 20 years to destroy the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge and to bring the leaders of this organization to a court of law. But it is very regrettable that when we were fighting against them, when we were demanding that the leaders of the Khmer Rouge be brought to trial, there were some people in some countries, including America, who were against us. I feel happy that now we have a consensus on what we have been demanding for a long time. The remaining question is the court of law, which could be national or international.

TIME: Why is this so unclear now? It seems as though there's almost a deliberate confusion here--should it be international, should it be Cambodian? Your statements have been very contradictory in the last several months.
Hun Sen: The situation has been changing drastically, especially since we introduced the win-win policies to put an end to the movement of the Khmer Rouge. This situation led to defections, of both the rank-and-file-and the leaders. The defections led to a dispute within the Khmer Rouge ranks and killings among those criminals. And that also led to an end of this Khmer Rouge organization and the opportunity for the arrest of the leaders. So here we have to be cautious in order to avoid any panic that could occur among the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. But that does not mean we have ended our quest to have justice done. At the same time we do not want any dispute among foreigners on the question of an international court of law. We have to know the real nature of the Khmer Rouge problem. One has to look at where it began and where it ended. I wonder whether there is any political point behind the court of law. If we are not cautious enough, then some leaders of the Khmer Rouge will feel panicked and go back into the jungle and wage war again.

TIME: Nobody in Cambodia wants to fight anymore. If they go back to the jungle, their soldiers will say bye-bye. Your great achievement is that you have persuaded the rank-and-file Khmer Rouge that fighting is not a good way forward. So why be afraid of their leaders? They have no power.
Hun Sen: If everyone decides so, it would be good. But we should not be too subjective. The question is what type of court it will be. Some people say that they have no confidence in Cambodian courts of law. It is their right to say so, but do they have concern for our feelings? If foreigners have the right to lack confidence in Cambodian courts of law, we Cambodians also have the right to lack confidence in an international court of law. Why? Because those who would mandate an international court used to support the Khmer Rouge. The hot debate which took place in 1987 until October 1991 was on the participation or non-participation of the Khmer Rouge in government. We demanded the inclusion in the Paris Peace Accords of a ban on the return of the genocidal regime; we demanded the destruction of the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge. But we were forced then to accept them in the political solution. So in this context we also have our right not to have confidence in the international court of law.

TIME: So you think an international court is impossible?
Hun Sen: It is their right to have discussions of this topic at the U.N. Security Council or other forums, but we prefer a national court of law. We would appeal for assistance from international lawyers for our court. Those who used to support the Khmer Rouge before can send their lawyers to defend the Khmer Rouge at the court of law in Cambodia.

TIME: So you would not expect a trial outside Cambodia.
Hun Sen: Yes, that's right. I would like to share with you some of the reasons behind that. Firstly, we do not have confidence in a so-called international court of law, which would be managed by those who used to support the Khmer Rouge. Secondly, there would not be any hope of establishing an international court of law because there would be some countries which would veto or abstain in the U.N. Security Council. So if such a court of law could not be established, how long should we keep [recently arrested Khmer Rouge leader] Ta Mok? Thirdly, we have been trying to dismantle the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge, so we should be given this right. We are entitled to put an end to that. Fourthly, the legal framework: it is prohibited by the constitution of Cambodia for any Cambodian to be arrested and then sent abroad. The fifth reason is that the people who committed the crimes are Cambodians, the victims were Cambodians and the place in which these acts happened was Cambodia, so the court of law that would take responsibility for this case should be a Cambodian court. But we would appeal for financial and technical assistance from friendly countries or from any countries that would like to help us.

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Everyone wants to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, so long as justice does not dig too deeply
--TIME Daily, Jan. 22, 1999

Cambodia's warm welcome for two Khmer Rouge ringleaders suggests justice won't come quickly
--TIME Asia, Jan. 11, 1999

But as the dust settles after Sunday's vote, a question: Was the fix in?
--TIME Daily, July 30, 1998
TIME: We went to your village on Sunday and discovered that the Khmer Rouge tried several times to burn your house down in the early 1990s and also killed your father-in-law. What do feel personally about the Khmer Rouge now? Do have anger and hatred in your heart toward them?
Hun Sen: Not only me, but the people of Cambodia as a whole. They still feel angry and can never forget the crimes that the Khmer Rouge committed against them. I lost my first child during Pol Pot's time, and one of my in-laws was killed. And many of my uncles and nephews were killed. But if we simply take revenge on these people, if we just kill these people, will we have peace? We must find justice for the Cambodian people through a court of law against those leaders of genocide.

TIME: But how many leaders? You have Ta Mok. How many others have to be called into a court of law?
Hun Sen: I am a politician. I have no right to charge anyone. The question of charging anyone rests with the prosecutors. Ta Mok was arrested, while the others surrendered. Even those who surrendered, who were not arrested, are not politically exempt from being charged by the prosecutors. I did not give any guarantee to any person--including my wife and children--that they will not face charges if they have committed a crime.

TIME: So would you send your prosecutors to arrest someone if there was a warrant from the prosecutor?
Hun Sen: I hope that these people are preparing themselves to come before a court, so there will be no need for us to arrest them. I think I should refrain from saying that this or that person should be brought to court, because that is the right of the prosecutors. The executive has no right to hinder or to give any orders to the court. Even President Clinton, as the chief of the executive branch in America, had no right to obstruct the proceedings of the court in the case of Monica Lewinsky. And me in the same way.

TIME: So do you think these remaining Khmer Rouge leaders sleep happily in Pailin, or are they a bit nervous these days?
Hun Sen: To my knowledge they do not feel happy. One said, I'm sorry, I'm very sorry. I don't think that is enough. I think those people are now thinking about what they should do for justice for the Cambodian people. I think they are also thinking of their defense once they have been charged.

TIME: Mr. Ta Mok will be tried in a Cambodian court. Will you charge him with membership in the Khmer Rouge or with crimes committed during the Pol Pot period?
Hun Sen: We cannot avoid looking at such activities during the period from 1975 to 1979. The main reason for Ta Mok's arrest is the crimes against humanity that occurred then.

TIME: Your daughter has married, your son is about to graduate from West Point, you've got ASEAN membership coming up, you've had a successful aid-donor meeting in Tokyo. And most importantly, for the first time in 30 years, Cambodia is at peace. This has been quite a good year for you. How do you feel?
Hun Sen: I see it as a success for my new government. Normally any new government is given 100 days to prepare its people, to prepare everything for its work. Yesterday was the 100th day of my government, and we have achieved a lot more than expected. We have to look to the future, we have to look to the new century, we have to look for ways to develop our nation. And so the situation in Cambodia is very good--the way we are finding reconciliation within our society, the way we have put an end to the Khmer Rouge problem, the way we are seeking assistance for the development of our nation. Everything is for the happiness of the people. Putting an end to the Khmer Rouge, an organization which has existed for more than half a century, is a very big issue in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was the cause of instability in Cambodia, the cause of death and of people being maimed. If you study the history of wars in any country in the world, I think it is unique that in Cambodia the ministers, the deputy prime ministers, the prime minister, the chairman of the national assembly and the head of state of the former regime surrendered to the government. It is also unique that we could arrest the leaders, the commanders who caused the war. In World War II no one could arrest Hitler. It is fortunate for my new government, but in reality it fortunate for the Cambodian people as a whole.

TIME: Do you think there is a difference between the way you are seen within Cambodia and your image outside the country? Particularly after the fighting in 1997, there was a lot of foreign anger about your government. Do you think you can change that image?
Hun Sen: Cambodia is seen as two countries. The Cambodia in the newspapers and on TV is a very bad place, and people are fearful to come. But the Cambodia you are now in is a country which is moving forward. Our weak point is that we do not have much time or ability to bring our realities to the outside world. You see, there are more opportunities for those who speak bad things about Cambodia rather than for us to speak about our achievement.


Everyone wants to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, so long as justice does not dig too deeply
--TIME Daily, Jan. 22, 1999

Cambodia's warm welcome for two Khmer Rouge ringleaders suggests justice won't come quickly
--TIME Asia, Jan. 11, 1999

But as the dust settles after Sunday's vote, a question: Was the fix in?
--TIME Daily, July 30, 1998
TIME: You hired an American p.r. firm last year to help you. Are you happy with what it achieved?
Hun Sen: I think it provided a good contribution for the understanding of American public opinion. It is important that there should not be any misunderstanding among us. The world after the Cold War should be a world of more understanding, more cooperation and closer relations.

TIME: How do you evaluate your relationship with the U.S. right now?
Hun Sen: I feel that we now have a good relationship, compared with the last two decades in which we seemed to be enemies. We are now very fortunate that Cambodia has no enemies. During the period of the Cold War, Cambodia had both enemies and friends. When we were divided, there were foreigners supporting this side and that side and making a dispute. When we are reconciled, the outside world is helping us. So we could say that it is very important that we are united inside the country so that the international community could also concentrate on helping us to develop our nation.

TIME: Cambodia seems to be very close to China these days. Are you happy with that relationship?
Hun Sen: I think it is fortunate that we could have such good relations with China. There are some people would like us to avoid being close to this country, but it is impossible because even America can't have bad relations with China. So it is our right as well as the other countries' right to have such a relationship with all countries of the world.

TIME: On the domestic political scene, a friend of yours says that Cambodian politicians can only love or hate--there's nothing in between.
Hun Sen: To me, it is only the genocidal regime of Pol Pot that is my eternal enemy. The rest we can reconcile and tolerate. I feel that I'm now entrusted with the task of the bigger brother, who has to gather all the younger brothers and sisters to come and work together. Because if some of our younger brothers and sisters do something wrong, we should encourage them to go back on the right track. Otherwise my government would not be successful. I think if you were prime minister, you would not have a different feeling from me. You would like all the people around you to work together for the development of the nation.

TIME: You are known for having a very strong temper. But people say that recently you've been much calmer. Have you changed because of the peace in the country? Are you a different person?
Hun Sen: It's not like that. Some people think I have a quick temper. But I read in Asiaweek, in the issue about its , that some leaders, even at the age of 70, still feel angry. So it's not only me who feels angry. But it's a question being angry for a reason. Yesterday I felt angry after reading a report about illegal logging in one of our provinces. I felt angry and then I made written recommendations to the commander of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Agriculture and the General Staff to take action. The other change within me is that, if I am cursed by the opposition party, I do not respond.

TIME: Why is that? Because you feel more confident with your power now?
Hun Sen: It's not like that. Because now I realize what they would like me to do for them. They appealed to America to fire missiles at my house, just as it did at Afghanistan and Sudan. You see, they would like me to respond to that. They would also like to win the Nobel Prize. So if they were exiled by the government or arrested, they would be awarded the Nobel Prize. They would like to be the Aung San Suu Kyii or the Dalai Lama of Cambodia.

TIME: This is who? Sam Rainsy?
Hun Sen: I do not refer to a specific person. You see, I got advice from my mother when I was nine or 10 years old: if the dog bites your leg, you should not bite the dog's leg. So therefore I would not like to do what is advised against by my mother.

TIME: Presumably you're not afraid of American missiles hitting this house?
Hun Sen: I do not believe the Clinton administration would be stupid enough, because of one or two people, to fire missiles to my house, which would not only destroy me, but the Cambodian people, and would be a violation of the sovereignty of a nation.


Everyone wants to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, so long as justice does not dig too deeply
--TIME Daily, Jan. 22, 1999

Cambodia's warm welcome for two Khmer Rouge ringleaders suggests justice won't come quickly
--TIME Asia, Jan. 11, 1999

But as the dust settles after Sunday's vote, a question: Was the fix in?
--TIME Daily, July 30, 1998
TIME: You say if a dog bites you, you don't bite it back. That means you feel you're getting above the petty infighting that's going on?
Hun Sen: We should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of those people who would like to destroy us. They would like to draw us into a political trap by engaging in such a dispute with them.

TIME: You're about to be accepted into ASEAN. How are your relations with Thailand, Vietnam, ASEAN in general?
Hun Sen: I think our relations with all countries of the region--especially our neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Laos--should be good relations.

TIME: I understand that the Thais have changed their policy, that they're now stopping Cambodian refugees from crossing into Thailand. I also understand that the Thais cooperated in the arrest of Ta Mok, insofar as he could not retreat into Thailand as he had done before.
Hun Sen: We had no cooperation with Thailand for the arrest of Ta Mok. We did it by ourselves. But the Americans cooperated with us. The Americans have been cooperating with us since May 1998. On the day of my daughter's wedding ceremony, the first foreigner I told about the arrest of Ta Mok was Ambassador Kenneth Quinn.

TIME: So there was intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Cambodia?
Hun Sen: We had an agreement to share information.

TIME: And this is what you refer to as starting in May 1998?
Hun Sen: We've continued since then.

TIME: The Americans have satellites, listening devices, an extensive information-gathering network. These were of help to the Cambodian military when they were arresting Ta Mok?
Hun Sen: No, because we have our own materials, we have our way of doing that.

TIME: Madeleine Albright's visit was just before Ta Mok's arrest. A coincidence?
Hun Sen: The arrest of the Khmer Rouge leaders, including Ta Mok, was our intention 20 years ago. So there is no outside influence. Hun Sen, if under pressure, would go the opposite way. But when we reach an understanding it would be OK. So if one would like to have effective cooperation with Hun Sen, one should study Hun Sen's philosophy. You see, when my sons would like to get money from me they don't go straight and ask for it. They have to find enough reason, enough sound achievement for that. What I don't like is being pressed.

TIME: As you know, the American policy-making process is extremely complicated. You have good relations here with the Ambassador, and yet there other people in U.S. who have been against you. And you even had part of the State Department yesterday saying that U.S. aid should be dependent on an international trial for the Khmer Rouge. How easy is it for you to keep up with all the different centers of power in the U.S.?
Hun Sen: Even President Clinton faced difficulties with the Congress, with the Senate. They could not provide tolerance even to the president. How about us, Cambodia, where sometimes they do not know the real situation?

TIME: You've finished the war. You have a mandate now for your government. What is your program? What are you priorities?
Hun Sen: We call our government an economics-oriented government. Our top priority is to mobilize all our resources and all the spirit for social and economic development. Poverty alleviation is also a priority for the government. In order to assure the success of these goals we need to carry out many reforms. We will downsize, by 79,000, the military and police force within a period of five years. I have asked the Ministry of Finance to find a way for us increase the salary of government workers, who are facing difficulties. It is our intention to increase their salary by 20%, as a first step. It is important that we carry out reforms for good governance and put an end to corruption and illegality. The process of democracy and respect for human rights is also a big priority for our government, because it will also help the effectiveness of our economic policies to build a state ruled by law. In order to ensure respect for human rights, people's basic needs must be met--clothing, housing. How could we respect human rights while people do not have enough to eat, do not have water for farming, do not have schools for learning? We cannot guarantee the children's rights unless they have enough to eat and there are schools for them to go to. Putting an end to war does not mean happiness for the people. We must overcome poverty.


Everyone wants to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, so long as justice does not dig too deeply
--TIME Daily, Jan. 22, 1999

Cambodia's warm welcome for two Khmer Rouge ringleaders suggests justice won't come quickly
--TIME Asia, Jan. 11, 1999

But as the dust settles after Sunday's vote, a question: Was the fix in?
--TIME Daily, July 30, 1998
TIME: Would you prepare to fire and if necessary arrest people for corruption?
Hun Sen: We are prepared to do that too, and we are now starting to put an end to illegal logging, which is the biggest source of corruption. We are now compiling all the papers --hundreds of cases--to be sent to court. We are using helicopters and parachuting troops. Where there is concrete evidence, illegal loggers will be sent to court.

TIME: You've said you will also investigate human rights abuses. So far no one has been arrested on that issue. Are you prepared to press ahead now that the war is over?
Hun Sen: We need to further investigate all the cases, including the grenade attack in front of the National Assembly.

TIME: So far the investigations haven't produced any arrests. Are you serious about this?
Hun Sen: Some have said that Cambodia is a place of impunity. But I prefer to say that Cambodia a place where we have not yet been able to put the criminals in prison. So far we haven't found enough evidence.

TIME: In 1999 Prime Minister Hun Sen is Mr. Peace. By 2003 will you also be Mr. Justice?
Hun Sen: I can't claim that, but we must not allow anyone to be exempted from trial by a court of law. It is also for that purpose that our political program includes reform of the judiciary. We need the judiciary to be reformed and honest to guarantee justice for the Cambodian people.

TIME: Are you concerned for your safety or that of your family?
Hun Sen: I feel that the acts of terrorism against my life have not yet come to an end. They will not cease with the unsuccessful attempt to kill me in Siem Riep, because Hun Sen is the main obstacle to those who have bad intentions. So I do not have the opportunity to go to restaurants or any other place of entertainment. In a way, I am living in a prison without walls.

TIME: How does that feel? Do you feel lonely or isolated here?
Hun Sen: Compared with other people, it might seem very lonely, but I have the habit of working and work occupies me, sometimes up to 1 or 2 a.m. And with so much work, I feel that I am accompanied by many people. Sometimes I also play chess. Some people say that playing chess makes you tense. But if you are playing not to win anything, but just for enjoyment, it is relaxing.

TIME: Some people say that you're so good at politics because you're also so good at chess--the strategy.
Hun Sen: In one way it's right because, in order to kill your enemies, how should you move your pawns? I used to advise those who play with me: if you lead with the big troops, you will be in danger.


Everyone wants to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, so long as justice does not dig too deeply
--TIME Daily, Jan. 22, 1999

Cambodia's warm welcome for two Khmer Rouge ringleaders suggests justice won't come quickly
--TIME Asia, Jan. 11, 1999

But as the dust settles after Sunday's vote, a question: Was the fix in?
--TIME Daily, July 30, 1998