Days before the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, Prime Minister Hun Sen downplayed the historic deal’s role in pulling the country out of war, talking up instead the value of his prior meetings with King Norodom Sihanouk and later negotiations with the Khmer Rouge.
The 1991 accords were signed between Mr. Hun Sen and the rebel factions aligned against his government at the time, ushering in a two-year peace-building mission by the U.N., capped off by the return of democratic elections in 1993. But factions within the Khmer Rouge rejected the deal and held on to parts of western Cambodia well into the 1990s.
Pailin province came into the fold in 1996, and Mr. Hun Sen was there on Wednesday to celebrate the occasion.
“This marks the 20th anniversary, and it gives me the chance to see how we turned former battlefields into markets and developed areas,” he told a roomful of soldiers and government officials.
The prime minister said it was not the accords that brought Cambodia a lasting peace so much as his “win-win policy,” which granted amnesty, jobs and land to Khmer Rouge holdouts who laid down their arms. And so far as the peace agreements did help, he added, it was thanks to negotiations he began years earlier with the late King Norodom Sihanouk, who was then leading one of the non-Khmer Rouge factions.
“We do not forget the Paris Peace Accords,” he said. “But please remember that without the Sihanouk-Hun Sen negotiations that started before, there would be no Paris Agreement. Second, without the win-win policy I initiated…there would be no peace today.”
The peace agreements are a touchy subject for the truculent prime minister. He lost the 1993 elections they ushered in, but muscled his way back to power outside the ballot box. He has been widely accused of manipulating the electoral process ever since.
The beleaguered opposition—ever at the losing end of those elections—also accuses his government of failing to implement the accords, which were meant to make Cambodia a functioning, multiparty democracy.
Mr. Hun Sen on Thursday told the CNRP not to politicize the accords, saying their essence had since been enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
Contacted after the speech, CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith agreed that Mr. Hun Sen’s deal with Khmer Rouge holdouts helped, but said the accords had laid the groundwork.
“So the Paris Peace Accords were the beginning of the return to peace,” he said, calling the win-win policy “a part of it.”
He agreed, too, that Mr. Hun Sen’s pre-accords talks with King Sihanouk helped, and said they should serve as a model for mending the current political rifts between the CPP and CNRP.
“If Khmer could talk with Khmer to end the war then, I’m positive there will be a solution to today’s issue through a culture of dialogue between Khmer and Khmer,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
As for the prime minister’s remark that the spirit of the accords was in the Constitution, he said the Constitution, like the accords, was not being respected.
“In brief, implementation of the Constitution is still poor in terms of human rights.”