Hun Sen May Send Troops To East Timor

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he is prepared to send Cambodian troops to East Timor to help Australia with its peacekeeping mission, following a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, according to news reports.

A spokesman for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh said that during Hun Sen’s visit to Australia, the two countries have also signed an agreement allowing Australian prisoners in Cambodia to be transferred to jails at home.

Standing side by side at a joint press conference in Canberra that was broadcast on Cambodian Television Network, Howard and Hun Sen both condemned North Korea’s nuclear test Monday and called on the UN to take action.

“We condemned [the test] and urged the UN to take an immediate action to prevent this kind of test,” Hun Sen said. But he added that any action taken against North Korea should not affect the living standards of the country’s citizens.

“This morning, during discussions with his excellency John Howard, Cambodia also said it was prepared to send its gendarmerie, its troops, to East Timor in the near future,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Howard announced that he would provide $33 million in aid to Cambodia’s agricultural sector over the next five years and $22 million to go toward helping Cambodia’s notorious judicial system.

After announcing the package, Howard praised the recent signing of a mineral exploration agreement between Cambodia and Australian mining giant BHP Billiton.

“I particularly acclaim the ratification of the BHP Billiton exploration agreement,” Howard said, though he did not elaborate.

Japan Corporate News Net­work reported Wednesday that Mitsubishi Corporation and BHP Billiton have signed a mineral exploitation agreement with the Cambodian government to explore for bauxite in Mondolkiri province.

The prisoner treaty between the two countries would potentially allow the five Australians serving jail time in Cambodia and 13 Cambodians imprisoned in Australia to serve the remainder of their sentences in their home countries, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Under the treaty, each prisoner must apply for a transfer, and both countries and the prisoner must agree, ABC said.

Australians currently imprisoned in Cambodia include Gordon Voung, 17, who is serving 13 years for heroin trafficking, and Bart “Lucky” Lauwaert who is serving 20 years for child sex crimes. Damien James Daniel Walker is also serving 10 years for having sex with underage boys.

Asked about East Timor, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said by telephone that Cambodia must play its part by sending troops to countries in need.

He added that Cambodia’s soldiers are currently too old and that the country needs a conscription law to train younger troops.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said he supported sending troops to East Timor. But he urged the government to send qualified people and not to attempt to make money by sending members of their own families. He added that the government does not need a conscription law as there are about 700 soldiers ready to be sent.

Despite his statesman-like stance at the press conference, Hun Sen did encounter a minor blip.

One reporter asked him if the fact that he used to be in the Khmer Rouge would negatively impact the tribunal.

Hun Sen replied that the Khmer Rouge tribunal was well on its way to starting.

“There is no obstacle to block the Khmer Rouge prosecution,” he said. “Everything is finished including the legal procedure [and] budget. Prosecutors and judges al­ready have started to work.”

“The issue is only when will the prosecutors charge [suspects] and when will the judge hear the case. It is up to the court,” he added.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he hoped that, as well as announcing aid packages, Howard would take the opportunity to press Hun Sen on Cambodia’s commitments to human rights and tackling rampant corruption.

“This is a unique opportunity to remind Hun Sen to keep his commitments to the donors,” Sam Rainsy said.

 

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