NEWSMAKER: HUN SEN
October 21, 1997
Cambodian leader Hun Sen was in the U.S. recently trying to convince the United Nations to recognize his government. It has been more than three months since the military staged a coup in Cambodia. The elected prime minister was ousted and many of his supporters were executed or forced into exile. Hun Sen talks about his country's past and future in this Newsmaker interview.
CHARLES KRAUSE: For more than two decades, Hun Sen has been at the center of Cambodia's tragic history--first as a Communist guerrilla commander, then as the head of a government imposed by Cambodia's neighbor, Vietnam, and currently, as prime minister of a quasi-democratic regime created after U.N.-supervised elections four years ago.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 14, 1997
Hun Sen has lashed out saying he won't join ASEAN.
June 18, 1997:
A discussion of the continuing unrest in Cambodia and rumors of Pol Pot's capture.
May 16, 1996:
President Clinton announces his plan to limit the use of landmines.
January 4, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the use of land mines in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
The Cambodian Embassy to the U.S.
Cambodia in Modern History: a site produced by those who opposed the Khmer Rouge
Who is Hun Sen?
Now 45, Hun Sen's first foray into politics took place in the 1970's. That's when he joined the Khmer Rouge, a Maoist-inspired guerrilla force led by Pol Pot, which was responsible for killing more than a million Cambodians in the late 1970's. At the height of the genocide in 1977, Hun Sen defected, fearing that he too would be killed. He escaped to neighboring Vietnam, where he was at first imprisoned. But later, he was selected by the Vietnamese to help run--and later lead--a government they installed in Cambodia after sending in their army to defeat the Khmer Rouge.
Ending the violence with democracy.
For most of the 1980's, Hun Sen and his government ruled Phnom Penh and other parts of central Cambodia with Vietnam's support. The Khmer Route, however, still controlled much of the countryside. Finally in 1992, after years of civil war, human slaughter and political instability, the U.N. and the international community intervened to organize elections. The vote was relatively clean and Hun Sen's political party, the CPP, came in second.
As a result, he ended up as co-prime minister--sharing power with Prince Ranarridh, a member of Cambodia's royal family. But last July, the arrangement fell apart. After nearly four years of coexistence, Hun Sen accused Prince Ranarridh of collaborating with remnants of the Khmer Rouge and of importing illegal weapons. The prince was then forced to leave Cambodia after being warned he would be overthrown in a military coup. A few days later, forces allegedly loyal to Hun Sen carried out that threat, rounding up and executing a number of Ranarridh's political supporters. Hun Sen denied complicity. But still he moved quickly to consolidate his power once the coup had taken place.
Lobbying the U.N. for support.
Since the coup, Hun Sen and his new government have been denounced by other governments and by editorial writers around the world. Stung by the criticism, he flew to New York recently, where he sought to improve his image--and to convince the United Nations to recognize and seat his new government. In New York, he had a private meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, followed by a photo-op and a public meeting at the Asia Society, where he tried to persuade a group of influential Americans that his government deserves U.N. and U.S. support in an interview afterwards, we asked Hun Sen about Prince Ranarridh's accusation that he engineered the coup.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How do you respond to his charge?
HUN SEN, Prime Minister, Cambodia: (speaking through interpreter) Ranarridh is the one who has threatened to kill me some years ago before Saddam Hussein is power man. I'm asking if I have all power, why should I go and get more power, so I can say that Ranarridh is collaborating with the Khmer Rouge, but myself, I'm collaborating with ten more political parties. I want to emphasize that Ranarridh left without somebody push him out.
Hun Sen responds to accusations of human rights abuses.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Despite Hun Sen's version of events, diplomats in Phnom Penh and several international rights groups tend to support Ranarridh's claim that he was forced to leave Cambodia. Human rights groups have also documented the repression that took place after the coup.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There is a report by Asia Watch, which I have a copy of here. In this report it accuses you and your government of carrying out a deliberate campaign to kill principal leaders of the opposition, to arrest and detain other leaders of the opposition, or force them to leave the country. Specifically, how do you respond to the charges in this report?
HUN SEN: (speaking through interpreter) We are going to investigate--we want to find out who did the killing. Until we now hadn't seen any politician got killed. At this point we want to know who is the politicians who got killed in order for us to send the killer to the justice. We don't want people in the prisons, so I would like to invite Asia Watch to come to Cambodia to watch with their own eyes and study each case with their own eyes.
Are new elections the answer?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Despite the recent turmoil, another round of U.N.-supervised elections is scheduled for next May.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Would you expect that you will be a candidate in that election?
HUN SEN: (speaking through interpreter) I'm going to be a candidate in this election. I'm not going out and campaign for the party. Somebody else can do it. I keep myself in place to control the--the guns in order to create an atmosphere neutral, to create a--just and equal atmosphere--each political party got to have equal time.
The U.S. sends signals of disapproval.
CHARLES KRAUSE: To protest the coup, the Clinton administration suspended U.S. aid to Cambodia.
SPOKESMAN: We will not be resuming those portions of our aid program that in some way directly or indirectly support the government of Cambodia. This is a clear signal to Hun Sen and to his associates that the United States will not be conducting business as usual with those individuals.
CHARLES KRAUSE: From your perspective, what is the role of the United States in Cambodia? Do you consider the government of the United States at this time to be an ally of yours, an enemy, or has it been relatively neutral?
HUN SEN: (speaking through interpreter) Since the beginning I never consider U.S. as an enemy, despite U.S. has sent soldiers to destroy my country. During the fighting I was hurt five times, and my eyes--I got blind. This should not be an obstacle to the relationship with the United States. When I was foreign minister and then later in 1985 became prime minister, I noticed that I was helping United States in finding U.S. servicemen that disappeared during the Vietnam War. I'm still working, looking for the MIA. I have special considerations in having a relationship with U.S., like, you know, I have two sons studying in the United States. I have another son who is going to West Point. I consider it the best school in the world. I want to have friendship, not enemy.
Working towards reconciliation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: When I interviewed Prince Ranarridh this summer, shortly after the coup, he said that he was willing to talk with you; that he was willing to negotiate with your government to find some solution to this problem. Why have you refused to talk with him?
HUN SEN: (speaking through interpreter) A few days ago Ranarridh announced that he want to meet me and then yesterday he said he cannot work with Hun Sen. Those words that he said, that he cannot work with Hun Sen, this is the cause of the fighting in July. Before the fighting, a few months, Ranarridh has announced--telling Asia Watch he cannot work with Hun Sen. He refused to work with me as co-prime minister in the government. There is no reason for me to talk to him again.
CHARLES KRAUSE: From New York Hun Sen flew to Paris and is now back in Cambodia.