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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'I HAVE TO BE FIRM'

Hun Sen on Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, his own political future -- and more


THE DEFECTION OF IENG Sary could lead to the crippling of the Khmer Rouge. That is the view of Hun Sen , who says that if everything goes the way the government hopes, the rebels could be reduced to just a hardcore element by the end of next year. Cambodia's second prime minister gave this assessment in a meeting with Asiaweek Contributor Dominic Faulder. The wide-ranging interview lasted for an hour and 40 minutes, in Hun Sen's home in Kandal, outside Phnom Penh. Excerpts:

Is Pol Pot still alive?

It is important [to know] that right now he is in Anlong Veng [in northwestern Cambodia, near the Thai border]. He is not only in good health, but he is there with his wife and children. This has been stressed by Ieng Sary too.

Do you feel you are taking a risk by extending an olive branch to Ieng Sary?

It's not like voting for somebody you like. The question here is who has been fulfilling the obligations that contribute to ending the war and to national reconciliation. Right now, it is only Ieng Sary who has defected, and so we have to welcome him. At this time, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen continue to fight us.

If Ieng Sary is followed by Khieu Samphan, Son Sen, Ta Mok, the hardcore Khmer Rouge, what will happen?

We will review it case by case and see how it would benefit the nation. If their good deeds are enough to pay back their mistakes, we should also consider that and not allow that opportunity to pass by.

Will Ieng Sary be allowed to form a political party and contest the 1998 elections?

I don't believe he would like to continue his political life because he is not a healthy man. He is also 73 years old.

But if he recovered, what would happen?

This is a question [that must be answered] within the framework of the law. If he received a pardon -- a decree to pardon his mistakes and his faults -- it would be within the [power of the] electoral law to define whether he is eligible to play a political role.

How much damage has Ieng Sary's departure done to the Khmer Rouge?

If we can solve the problems satisfactorily in Pailin, Malai and all the areas under the control of Ieng Sary, it means we can reduce their forces by 80%. I believe that shortly after the question of Pailin and Malai has been resolved, we will also achieve similar [results] in Koh Kong and Pursat. There has also been some confusion, even chaos, in the Anlong Veng area since 2 p.m. on Aug. 25. I believe that similar cases will happen in all the [Khmer Rouge-held] places. In my estimation, by late 1997 the situation will be very good. If any Khmer Rouge remain, it will only be some hardliners.

It has been a difficult year for the government coalition, which operated quite well in 1994 and 1995. Now there seems to be more of a dialogue between the two prime ministers, and the King has come back into the picture.

There are many misunderstandings concerning our coalition government. We have been working together very well -- not only in 1994 and 1995, but in 1996. I don't know what people want from us. When we are on good terms, we are accused of heading toward a dictatorship. But when we just express differences of opinion in the process of democracy, we are accused of being in dispute.

Will the coalition last to the 1998 elections?

I believe so. I don't think anyone intends to dissolve the coalition government, and if anyone has such an idea, they cannot find the two-thirds majority to support it. The government is formed by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, and, in order to dissolve it, they have to find a two-thirds majority, which is impossible.

You have been prime minister for more than 10 years, which is unusual in any country. How do you see yourself in terms of Cambodian history?

I compare myself to a doctor who has been treating a patient for more than 17 years. I understand the health of that patient very well. [Just by] looking at the face or feeling the hand, I can even see the patient's future condition. Looking at events up to now, I feel very optimistic.

Do you see a longterm political future for yourself?

I don't feel I'd like to be long in political life. I will withdraw when I become out of date and not capable of treating my patient any more. The patient wouldn't be with us any more if we couldn't treat him. So the doctor is also subject to the needs of the patient.

We know about the historic relationship between the royal family and North Korea, and, of course, Beijing was the sponsor of the Khmer Rouge. You recently visited South Korea and China. What were your objectives?

It would be a big loss for the people of Cambodia if we did not have relations with South Korea. Frankly speaking, South Korea needs Cambodia less than Cambodia needs South Korea. We need the investment and technology from South Korea, but no South Korean would be willing to invest in Cambodia if there were no protection. What I have been doing has not been against the King. And the King has not opposed what I am doing. As for China, the past is one thing and the present another. China put an end to its relationship with the Khmer Rouge after the Paris Peace Accord was signed. It shifted its support to the Supreme National Council of Cambodia. My visit to China was to serve future relations between the two countries.

What is the future of the monarchy after King Sihanouk?

I would like you to quote everything I say here. First, I would like to say that the monarchy in Cambodia is eternal. One should not take as a topic of discussion the question of whether Cambodia should be a monarchy or a republic, because it is all clearly and firmly defined in the constitution. No one is entitled to amend the articles relating to the King, not even Parliament. Only with a military coup could the monarchy be dissolved, and I don't think anyone has any intention of staging a coup. The second point I would like to make to you is that I would like my King to live a long life, because this is the need of the people of Cambodia and it is necessary for national reconciliation. I don't want to talk about anything after the death of our King. I pray that the King lives a long life.

Your style is to emphasize legalistic principles and firmness. Is this sometimes misunderstood?

I feel that it is sometimes the case that my firmness has been misunderstood as a threat. But if I am a dictator, who will support me in the 21st century? Still, I will not change my firmness because it is a characteristic needed for leadership. Even with my own children, I have to be firm. I don't kill people. What I have done has been for humanitarian reasons. I am trying my best to end the war. I know very well that for there to be a political solution, there must be a coalition.

Did you ever meet Pol Pot, Ieng Sary or any members of the politburo?

The way the Khmer Rouge leaders hid themselves was simply unique in the world. It was hard for us even to meet someone holding the rank of chief of a region. I saw Ieng Sary once in the so-called liberated zone. During the Pol Pot period, I did not even have the chance to meet a chief of district.

What happens to any Khmer Rouge who have not repented? Will they face trial?

I honestly don't know what some people expect of me. If we push for the trial of the Pol Pot group, we are accused of closing the door on national reconciliation. If we accept Pol Pot defectors back into society, we are accused of taking Pol Pot back. The trial of Pol Pot for genocide is unavoidable, but we have to review the others case by case.

Accepting the rank and file is one thing, but accepting the people at the top -- like Ieng Sary -- is another.

It's a question of giving Ieng Sary a pardon and, then, in exchange, we can have peace. Or we can accuse Ieng Sary, try him and continue the fighting. If the others [follow] Ieng Sary -- Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan, Son Sen and Ta Mok -- you can come and ask me again. I think we should not talk about how many kilograms of fish to cook, or whether to fry or to bake, at a time when the fish are still in the water. If we do, it's like throwing something into the water that will frighten all the fish away. And the question of how much to fry and how much to bake will simply come to nothing.

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