Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday accused Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan of interference in Cambodian affairs by criticizing recent military exercises and promised to complain at next month’s Asean Summit in Hanoi.
The premier’s remarks followed the Foreign Ministry’s written complaint to Asean on Sunday after a Malaysian news agency quoted Mr Surin as saying the regional body was “very concerned” that last week’s military exercises in Kompong Chhnang province could be a sign of instability in the region.
The Cambodian army on Thursday test-fired more than 200 BM-21 artillery rockets but denied the exercise was saber-rattling prompted by the long-standing deployment of forces at contested border sites with Thailand.
“You must make a retraction. Your expression is interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs,” Mr Hun Sen said in a speech delivered in Kampot province’s Chhuk district.
If Mr Surin does not respond to Sunday’s Foreign Ministry letter, Mr Hun Sen said: “I will raise this issue at the Asean meeting in Hanoi to criticize the Asean secretary-general.”
A spokeswoman at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta said yesterday that Mr Surin was out of the office and a request for a response to Mr Hun Sen’s remarks was not immediately answered.
In his speech, Mr Hun Sen said other Asean countries, including Thailand, had staged military exercises without criticism from Mr Surin, who he claimed had a history of meddling in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
“I think Surin Pitsuwan is not suitable as Asean secretary-general…. The secretary-general is [to be] neutral,” Mr Hun Sen said.
“I know you clearly since you were in Asean’s troika. You interfered in Cambodia’s internal affairs and you interrupted Cambodian membership in Asean,” he added.
As foreign minister of Thailand, Mr Surin was named to a so-called Asean “troika” with representatives of the Philippines and Indonesia to mediate between the CPP and Funcinpec in the aftermath of the factional fighting in 1997 when troops loyal to then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen defeated the forces of then-First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Cambodia’s entry into Asean was delayed for two years as a result of the 1997 fighting.
Between 1997 and 2001, Mr Surin served under Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai of the royalist Democrat Party, the same grouping now led by current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose relations with Mr Hun Sen have been marked by deep animosity.
In his speech, Mr Hun Sen also took issue with unnamed persons who he said were calling for King Norodom Sihamoni to be given command of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Similar remarks were attributed to opposition lawmaker Son Chhay in Sunday’s issue of the Khmer-language newspaper Kampuchea Thmey Daily.
“Now he wants the King to control the army. This is out of order,” the prime minister said without mentioning a specific person. “The opposition is just opposing.”
Under the Constitution, the King does not have political power. However the monarch is named RCAF Supreme Commander and chairman of a Supreme Council of National Defense. Though no such body currently exists.
Mr Chhay said yesterday that he had no comment on the Asean affair but simply noted the King’s Constitutional role in the military.
“As we have observed, even though the King signs the promotions for the generals, he is doing so at the direct request of the prime minister,” Mr Chhay said.
SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said that he did not believe Mr Surin had intended to interfere in Cambodian affairs. “This is just [Mr Surin’s] concern. It is not interference.”
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)