Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday blasted the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period of retired King Norodom Sihanouk and revealed his own childhood ambitions of becoming a king.
Now known as Cambodia’s strongman, Hun Sen said that as a child, he had wanted to be a king, while his classmates strove to become soldiers, teachers and doctors.
“I wanted to be king because the king’s role is easiest of all,” he said at a pagoda inauguration ceremony at his birthplace in Kompong Cham province’s Stung Trang district. Hun Sen celebrated his 54th birthday on Monday.
In veiled praise of his own leadership in comparison to Norodom Sihanouk’s, Hun Sen said Cambodia is now better off than it was in the pre-war era of the 1960s, “when there was peace without stability.”
“Cambodians then were painted different colors, Red Khmers, Blue Khmers, Pink Khmers…leading to division,” he said, referring to the different political stripes of Cambodians at the time.
He also warned against painting a nostalgic picture of Cambodia’s past.
“Don’t cheat the younger generation. The new generation solves the problems left over by the older politicians,” he said.
In his speech, broadcast on Apsara Radio, Hun Sen rebuked Ruom Ritt, the pen pal of Norodom Sihanouk, whom many have speculated is a pseudonym for the retired King himself.
Hun Sen said Ruom Ritt’s letters, which until last week were published regularly on the Norodom Sihanouk’s Web site, only mentioned “good things” about the Sangkum Reastr Niyum.
Instead, Hun Sen said, Ruom Ritt should also mention the deaths of political activists, Preap In, Chau Ngoy, Chau Mathura, and Chau Bory, who were summarily executed during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, accused of being traitors to then-Prince Sihanouk.
“If Ruom Ritt writes more, I will air the execution of Preap In…on television,” Hun Sen threatened.
Such executions by Sangkum Reastr Niyum soldiers, which he said co-Defense Minister Tea Banh narrowly escaped, paved the way for then-Prince Sihanouk’s overthrow, Hun Sen suggested.
“This was also reason to create war in Cambodia,” he added.
Last week, the prime minister accused Ruom Ritt, an ardent critic of the current leadership, of threatening peace in Cambodia and suggested that he would be better off dead.
Norodom Sihanouk has since stopped publishing his pen pal’s letters, saying Ruom Ritt was “experiencing a political crisis again with some dignitaries.”
The retired King himself has postponed his return to Cambodia from Beijing until June, citing medical problems.
In a subsequent statement, dated Saturday, Norodom Sihanouk said Ruom Ritt is “gravely ill and hospitalized” and was not capable of writing anymore.
In his speech Monday, Hun Sen accused Ruom Ritt of unfairly criticizing him, but said he was nevertheless undeterred.
“Whatever Ruom Ritt [says to] dampen me, I won’t die,” the prime minister said. “Ruom Ritt is in his 80s…. I am only in my 50s.”
He added: “I will follow the Constitution only and will not let anyone boss [me] around.”