A Cambodian Tragedy: Lessons for Today?
HONG KONG, June 15, 2010 - The
domestic situation in Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Sen is stable,
according to Benny Widyono, the former United Nations Ambassador to Cambodia
who gave the Asia Society Hong Kong Center an assessment of the current
political situation there.
Hun Sen is one of the key
leaders of the Cambodian People's Party, which has
governed since the Vietnamese-backed overthrow of the Khmer Rouge
in 1979. "His
government is very stable," Widyono said. "He has an estimated 3,000-men bodyguard. They get
paid 300 dollars, while regular soldiers only get paid 30 dollars. He is very
rich and can afford it. The bodyguard unit is really surrounding him if the
regular army tries something else."
He noted that Hun Sen's son was currently being
groomed to replace him. "He is very well-educated. He has a PhD in
economics from New York
University. He has a
military degree from West Point. Hopefully he
will be more benign. His son is head of intelligence services."
On military stability, Widyono commented, "I would say
it is quite stable and the west would like to give him money and foreign aid
and investors are coming. Our private equity fund raised 34 million dollars
last year. The west has increased aid to Cambodia year after year. This
year, it has one billion dollars of foreign aid. Western governments feel Hun
Sen brings stability. Compared to Thailand
it is still a poor country but it is very stable. They are very friendly, they
are very happy and optimistic. It is a country looking forward."
Cambodia, between 1969 and 1997, was plunged into chaos,
turmoil and civil war culminating in the massacre by the Khmer Rouge of 1.7
million people. Liberation by the Vietnamese army did not end the suffering, as
the UN continued for 11 years to recognize the exiled Khmer Rouge as the
representative of Cambodia.
A UN peacekeeping operation brought this anomaly to an end by holding elections
in which a new coalition government was established between the Cambodian
People's Party and the royalist Funcinpec
A retired UN civil servant,
Widyono served in Cambodia for five
years in the 1990s, first with the U.N. Transitional Authority and then as the
U.N. Secretary-General's Political Representative.
Reported by Penny Tang, Asia Society
Hong Kong Center