united nations – Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped onto the world stage Monday and, as expected, painted a picture of a rejuvenated Cambodia that has left behind its brutal history and is committed to development and democracy.
“Cambodia has finally turned a corner of history, putting firmly behind the darkness of its recent past history and emerging into a new dawn of its future,” Hun Sen told visiting delegations in New York at this initial two-week session of the UN General Assembly annual meeting.
The General Assembly address was the first ever by the prime minister, whose control of the UN seat was blocked by countries opposed to the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia in the 1980s, and by those angered by the 1997 factional fighting that led to the exile of then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Sticking close to his prepared speech, Hun Sen outlined his vision for the world as it enters the new millennium and to sound notice that Cambodia will assume a more “responsible role in regional and international affairs.” He seemed eager to distance Cambodia from its image as a perennial problem spot, noting his plan to pursue “market-oriented” policies, as well as his commitment to pluralistic democracy and to uphold “human dignity and human rights.”
However, he spoke little about what some consider one of the most important steps to improving Cambodia’s image on the world stage: a credible internationally recognized tribunal to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge for genocide and crimes against humanity.
US State Department officials and some UN workers this week stressed the importance of addressing Cambodia’s brutal recent past if it is to fully leave behind its tattered image. They pointed to such efforts by countries like South Africa and Guatemala, which resulted in their improved standing in the international community, and a perception that they are on the path to lasting democracy.
Cambodia, Hun Sen said, is “firmly resolved to do whatever is needed” to try former Khmer Rouge leaders, but as long as it retains its “national independence and sovereignty.”
Hun Sen met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week, but the two sides remained deadlocked over who would control the tribunal. Tuesday, chief government negotiator Sok An met with UN officials for the last meeting of the trip. The two sides appeared to make little progress.
In the meeting, the UN reiterated its position that “certain standards would have to be in place to ensure the international credibility of the trial,” according to a spokesman from Annan’s office.
Sok An emphasized that Cambodia was “keen for the trial to be internationally acceptable” and would review its current tribunal draft law “with a view to incorporating certain comments” by a UN team that visited Cambodia last month, the spokesman said. However, the meeting produced no agreement, with both sides remaining at odds on fundamental issues.
Hun Sen and Sok An declined to comment on the talks after the General Assembly meeting.
In his speech—which was delivered early Tuesday, Cambodia time—Hun Sen also touted Cambodia’s “steady growth” and the economy’s maintenance of “a fairly even keel” in the face of the Asian financial crisis.
Repeatedly, Hun Sen focused on the plight of the poor, noting that Cambodia’s “main and foremost goal is poverty alleviation.”