Prime Minister Hun Sen and key members of his ruling CPP on Saturday lauded their achievements since the Paris Peace Agreements, which were signed 15 years ago today.
Foreign diplomats participating in the government’s forum to mark the occasion also applauded the government for ensuring stability, but urged it to look to the problems of today as well as reflecting on the past.
The 1991 peace agreements authorized the UN Transitional Authority to oversee national elections in 1993, and started Cambodia’s transition from being a communist state in the 1980s to an emerging democracy.
With an estimated cost of $2 billion, UNTAC was at the time the most expensive reconstruction effort ever ventured by the international community.
But it never succeeded in its goal of vanquishing the Khmer Rouge, who plagued the country until 1998. And the CPP has long taken issue with UNTAC’s legacy, saying the ruling party was solely responsible for ending Cambodia’s decades of civil war.
“What the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements intended to achieve could not be realized during UNTAC. It has now become reality because Cambodian factions have agreed with each other without any order and influence from outside,” Hun Sen told the forum.
Hun Sen said historians have inaccurately portrayed him as receiving advice from foreign powers during the peace negotiations.
He pointed to a secret meeting in Vientiane with the Thai military in 1988 which he said brought the Khmer Rouge’s international backer to put pressure on the rebels.
Addressing former Soviet deputy foreign minister Igor Rogachev, who was in the audience, Hun Sen asked: “You can be my witness…did I make decisions on my own?”
To illustrate his policy of co-opting former enemies, the prime minister asked former Khmer Rouge stalwart and now Pailin governor Y Chhien to stand up in the audience.
“Who are you playing golf with tomorrow?” Hun Sen asked him. “The only thing going into the jungle now is a golf ball.”
Hun Sen and several other top CPP officials, including Cabinet Minister Sok An and CPP President Chea Sim, noted that UNTAC was responsible for organizing the 1993 election. But they added that it did not bring peace, stability and reconciliation, which they said was the achievement of Hun Sen alone.
That view was not shared by foreign diplomats, who said UNTAC was key to starting the process of achieving stability.
Several diplomats stressed the need to consider Cambodia’s future.
“The royal government is expected to fulfill its promise without delay to adopt several basic laws indispensable for legal and judicial reform…and to establish a neutral and reliable judicial system,” Japanese Ambassador Fumiaki Takahashi said.
British Ambassador David Reader said that achieving peace had been a great success, but added: “What [people] do not want is to have their land grabbed, their forests stolen or their water polluted. The poor as well as the rich expect to be treated with dignity.”
Government advisor Sum Manit, who coordinated the forum, said reform in Cambodia has been “retarded” not by Cambodia’s leaders, but by resistance by lower-level officials and the general public.
“You cannot just blame the government,” he said.
Neither Funcinpec nor the SRP were invited to speak at the forum. But in an open letter to signatories of the Paris agreements, SRP Senator Kong Korm offered a highly critical interpretation of Cambodia 15 years on.
Kong Korm remarked that UN human rights envoy to Cambodia Yash Ghai has accused the government of manipulating the democratic process and using the state to accumulate private wealth.
Noting a growing gap between the rich and the poor and an increasing number of land disputes, Kong Korm wrote: “Cambodia is a fragile state that needs urgent help.”