Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday savaged a UN mission’s report that labeled Cambodia a potential breeding ground for international terrorism, calling the assessment damaging, erroneous and misguided.
Heraldo Munoz, chairman of the UN Security Council’s committee concerning sanctions against blacklisted terrorist organizations, said last week that Cambodia urgently needs international cooperation to ensure militant groups do not operate within its borders.
He pointed to the period during 2002 and 2003 that Hambali, operations chief of Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, spent in Cambodia as evidence of an environment hospitable to international outlaws.
Hambali “was not vacationing there, clearly,” Munoz told reporters in New York.
Hun Sen responded by accusing Munoz of stupidity and harming Cambodia’s economy. He also called the report “a threat we cannot accept.”
“This statement caused Cambodia to lose investments…. This is an awful message for Cambodians and Cambodia’s investments and tourists,” the premier said.
“But the tourists are not stupid like this [UN] ambassador because Cambodia is safe,” he continued, saying that tourist numbers were up by 30 percent this year. “The UN should use officials who are better educated than that person.”
Hun Sen pointed to the August 2003 arrest of Hambali in Thailand, which occurred shortly after he slipped out of Cambodia, as evidence that Cambodian authorities were doing their part in battling terrorism.
He added that Cambodia had never suffered a significant terrorist strike such as the ones that have wracked countries like the US and Indonesia.
“If you do not have the ability to control your countries, do not criticize Cambodia as incapable. Although we have not adopted the anti-terrorism law, we have applied our own measures,” he said.
“I would like to advise the Security Council to please pay attention to those countries that have the law, because [in] those countries, most of the time, there are explosions.”
Then the prime minister raised the subject of Untac. He noted that the UN mission “spent $2 billion, but they could not solve the Khmer Rouge problem.”
“But at last Cambodia has turned the battlefield into a development area,” he said.
He also said that he had not been informed of Munoz’s visit to or the Security Council’s intention to evaluate the country.
The premier was not alone on that count.
Christelle Chapoy, spokeswoman for the UN Development Program, said Tuesday that Munoz may not have liaised with UN agencies operating in Cambodia as the Security Council has a separate mandate.
Consequently, UN officials in Phnom Penh have said they could not explain or elaborate on Munoz’s grim assessment.
Graham Shaw, coordinator for the local UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which concerns itself with terrorism, said Wednesday that Munoz’s statement caught him off guard.
“I was surprised by the severity of the comments, as reported by the media,” he said.
Shaw went on to say that he did not think Munoz’s report was totally accurate, that the Cambodian government was implementing significant measures to ward off terrorists.
“Clearly the government has the will,” Shaw said.