Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hun Sen shows lack of class and tact

Cambodian premier's provocative remarks won't help Asean or bilateral relations

You can take the man out of the jungle but you cannot take the jungle out of the man, or so the saying goes. At this moment, that could be said about mercurial Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after the verbal sparring of the last few days.
"Millions of Thai people, the red shirts, support Thaksin [Shinawatra, ex-PM]. Why, as a friend, can't I support Thaksin? Without the 2006 coup these things would not have happened," said Hun Sen shortly after arriving in Cha-am for the annual Asean Summit.

Throwing caution and discretion to the wind, the Cambodian leader argued further: "Many people talk about Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar [Burma], why not talk about Thaksin? That cannot be referred to as interference."

Perhaps the Cambodian premier thought he was still leading some Khmer Rouge faction, and did not think that as prime minister of his country there was a need to be considerate to others' feelings, much less diplomatic protocol.

For a man with nearly three decades of regional experience, one would have thought that he would exhibit better diplomatic manners than what one has seen so far.
His provocative recent statements really ripped at the heart of so many Thais at a time when the country is bogged down with internal strife. One wonders what Hun Sen would have got out of rubbing more salt on open wounds.

Sadly, he has permitted himself to be part of a cheap ploy by fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra to steal the spotlight from a major international event that brought together leaders from 16 Asian and other nations, including India, Australia and New Zealand.

Thaksin had the audacity to tell Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to show some manners by not putting domestic politics over regional concerns. What else could one expect from Thaksin?

But what is Hun Sen's motivation? Is he desperate for attention and recognition at an international gathering after being in power for nearly three decades but with nothing much to show for it?

Holding on to power by any means and turning his once war-torn country into his personal playground would not count for much in terms of achievements in this day and age. Under his rule, Cambodia continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. We think the Cambodian people deserve better.

But then again, what else can you expect from a man who is doing his best to obstruct the UN tribunal from putting more members of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime on trial?

Is it because the Cambodian leader does not want the tribunal to reach too far as some of his Cabinet members might be named? After nearly 2 million deaths, a lot of people have blood on their hands, so it seems.

Hun Sen knows better than anyone about realpolitik when he staged a coup in early 1997 that delayed Cambodia's admission into Asean. Deep down, he still resents Asean and its treatment of his government.

Incidentally, it was the Thai government that was instrumental in helping him and Cambodia's return to the Asean fold and eventually the grouping's membership.
Moreover, he should be reminded that the current Thai government came through a parliamentary process, not because of the 2006 coup.

One also wonders what was Hun Sen's logic in comparing Thaksin with Burmese pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi. Is he bereft of any sense of proportion? Comparing Thaksin to Suu Kyi is an insult to the millions of Burmese people who are suffering at the hands of the ruling junta.

The Asean Summit should have been an occasion to consolidate among members. But instead, it has been sidetracked into trivial personal issues.

General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who has a penchant to stir the hornet's nest, should be condemned for internationalising a domestic issue for his own benefit. Giggling at reporters while talking on the phone with Thaksin, Chavalit showed how puerile he could be, or perhaps how low the former premier and Army chief could stoop. It's hard to fathom his behaviour, except that desperate situations call for desperate acts.

Perhaps it would be better for Hun Sen to keep his friendship with fugitive Thaksin, and their mutual admiration, in the closet. It could be a case of twisted minds thinking alike.

What he has done is not only harmful to the Thai-Cambodian relationship but also Asean's reputation and solidarity.

But, maybe, he just doesn't care.

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