Cambodia: Making Friends With Thailand & Still Talking To The UN

2000

Tony Kevin

In February, Hun Sen visited Thailand. Relations with Thailand are now the best for many years. Thai Prime Minister Leekpai plans an early return visit to Phnom Penh. Mekong region cooperation is taking concrete shape.

While in Bangkok, Hun Sen took part in the inaugural ASEAN-UN summit meeting and had a separate meeting with Kofi Annan. The latter was preceded by a sharply worded ultimatum letter (leaked to media) from Annan to Hun Sen. It is alleged that this letter was drafted by UN lawyers in the hope of provoking Hun Sen to curtail Cambodiaís year-long negotiation with the UN concerning conditions for UN assistance to Khmer Rouge trials in Cambodia. Though Hun Sen complained vividly to the press that Annanís conditions would reduce the Cambodian Government to the 'guard-dog outside the courthouse', he was too canny to reject them outright. Both leaders left the meeting professing optimism that a solution could be found.

But on Annanís return to New York, he briefed the Security Council and media in hard terms that Cambodia may still consider an unacceptable attack on its sovereignty. The Secretary-General said: 'As you know, the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia have been engaged in negotiations over the nature of a tribunal to try Khmer Rouge personnel accused of genocide and other violations of international humanitarian law. The international community and Cambodia itself agree that such a tribunal should have an international character and be able to ensure that minimum international legal standards are metÖ. The main concern on the United Nations side is to ensure that the judicial system set up for this purpose under Cambodian law does indeed reach international standards. It must guarantee the arrest and surrender of all indictees; it must exclude any amnesty for genocide or crimes against humanity; and it must include an appropriate international element among both prosecutors and judgesÖ. Let me assure you that the United Nations is acting in good faith, purely with a view to ensuring respect for the international standards that have been developed over the years. I sincerely hope that I can count on the support of Member States for the Organisation's efforts to arrive at an acceptable solution.'

Annanís latest formula would oblige the Cambodian Government to arrest any Cambodian whom an international prosecutor indicted; and would not allow the Cambodian Government to amnesty convicted persons.

In a very similar situation - proposed trials in Indonesia of TNI personnel accused of crimes against humanity in Timor - Annan has given UN endorsement to Indonesia conducting its own trials in its own way and even amnestying sentenced persons. The UN, by contrast, is refusing similar sovereign rights to Cambodia, apparently because it does not like or trust Hun Sen; although Cambodia is not in a state of war, it has a democratically elected government and a parliamentary system, and it is a UN and ASEAN member in good standing.

WATCHPOINT: Will Annanís proclaimed 'final' round of UN-Cambodian talks in Phnom Penh result in a UN formula sufficiently flexible for Cambodia to accept - or will Cambodia finally have to go it alone on Khmer Rouge trials, without UN help or endorsement?

 

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