Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he had forgotten that it was 30 years to the day that he came to power until reminded by a journalist, and urged his many critics to reconsider their opinions of him.
Speaking at the inauguration of the $118-million, Japanese-funded Neak Loeung bridge that links Kandal and Prey Veng provinces, the prime minister said that he was reminded of the day’s significance when he received a text message from a reporter for Kyodo News.
“I saw his SMS when I woke up,” he said, “asking one question—whether Samdech chose the 14th to connect the bridge because it was his 30th anniversary as prime minister. I said, ‘No, I chose it based on Khmer rules…. Wednesday is the day the people go to the village, so Wednesday is a good day.’”
Once reminded, however, Mr. Hun Sen said he was first upset by the critical headline on a story about the anniversary published in a local newspaper—which he did not name—but then cheered up after reading on.
“There is a newspaper that sees only the bad points,” he said. “But there were interviews with people saying good things and people saying bad things. I would like to thank both those who said good things and those who said bad things.”
“There will always be pros and cons after being prime minister from 1985 until today,” he continued. “But please, look back a little bit. When Hun Sen started out as prime minister, war was still tearing the country down…. Please don’t be confused. If there was no Hun Sen, there would be no Paris Peace Agreement.”
The 1991 agreement brought multi-party politics back to Cambodia and paved the way for the U.N.-sponsored elections two years later. But holdouts from the Khmer Rouge, deposed in 1979, continued to resist the government from their bases in the north and northwest.
On Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen said only he could have pulled off the deal that convinced the last of the holdouts to put down their arms in 1998. He pointed out that he succeeded where the U.N. mission to Cambodia, Untac, failed, recalling how its officials were repelled from the Khmer Rouge rebel stronghold in Pailin.
“Untac spent $2 billion, but the war did not end,” he said. “They could not enter Pailin, but I could enter and I took everything.”
The prime minister said he was also responsible for bringing property ownership back to Cambodia in the 1980s after the Khmer Rouge’s disastrous experiment with collectivization.
“The situation required us to change and give ownership to the citizens,” he said. “But I’m just saying, and I am not boasting about myself.”
Millions of Cambodians still do not have private land titles. Rights groups say hundreds of thousands have unjustly lost land or been evicted from their homes over the past several years because of the government’s deference to corporate interests.