Hun Sen’s Battle for Middle Earth (Page 2 of 3)

A Pagoda Boy with a Puritan Streak

Prudish with a famous temper, Hun Sen was born in August 1952, the third of six children in central Cambodia. At age 12 he moved to Phnom Penh to study while living in a pagoda, a common practice for impoverished children who come in from the countryside to study.

A few years later, when the Khmer Rouge were in the ascendancy, he became a foot soldier and rose to the rank of deputy regional commander as the ultra-Maoists seized control of the country in 1975 and embarked on their bloody reign of terror. He married Bun Rany, a field nurse, a year later in a mass ceremony.

Under Pol Pot, the communists divided the country into sections and Hun Sen was deployed to the Eastern Region of Democratic Kampuchea, as it was called during the Khmer Rouge era, an area near the Vietnamese border that had largely escaped the massive purges and executions. He lost his left eye during a firefight and says his sight is now limited to 200 meters.

As the death toll mounted, so did Khmer Rouge defections. The eastern zone of what was then Democratic Kampuchea was targeted by Communist leaders, prompting Hun Sen to flee to Vietnam where Hanoi was tiring of Pol Pot’s cross-border incursions and was assembling a force of troops opposed to the Khmer Rouge.

The Vietnamese-backed offensive was launched over Christmas 1978 and was completed two weeks later. The Khmer Rouge was pushed into the country’s isolated northwest from where they maintained a low-level civil war for the next two decades.

Hun Sen was rewarded and fast-tracked through the ranks of the Vietnamese-installed government, becoming foreign minister in 1979 and the world’s youngest prime minster in 1985 at age 33.

In the 1980s, he survived at least three attempts on his life and was a constant target for assassination by the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge and Western-supported insurgencies that had coalesced along the Thai border and put aside their intense loathing of the ultra-Maoists to fight a common enemy — a Vietnamese-sponsored regime.

It was a battle that lasted until 1989 and the end of the Cold War. A United Nations intervention aimed at building a democracy followed Vietnam’s withdrawal and Hun Sen then took the biggest gamble of his political career, convinced he would win the 1993 election. But when he lost, his mean streak emerged.

Hugely embarrassed, he refused to accept the results. Through his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), he maintained control of the military and a 100,000-strong bureaucracy forcing the UN — which had failed in its mandate to disarm the warring parties — to negotiate.

Comments
26
Naranhkiri Tith
February 19, 2014 at 23:40

Thank you for a very insightful and encompassing view of Cambodia under Hun Sen dictatorship. I want to draw the attention of the readers of this article about Mr. Hunt’s last paragraph of his article, as follows:
Hun Sen’s greatest asset — as even his opponents acknowledge -– was that he secured what this country needed most–peace. But Cambodia’s dark past is now consigned to the history books. If Hun Sen truly is in control then he needs to combat corruption, end the culture of impunity and punish those who have committed horrendous crimes of their own in more recent years. Is this sentence a praise for Hun Sen for contribution to peace in Cambodia My question is whether is or is not a criminal and a killer? The answer to this question can only be seriously examined by an international court such as the ICC. This is the way to be sure to have a more balanced answer as to whether did or did not contribute to peace in Cambodia. Naranhkiri Tith Ph.D.

Bob
July 1, 2013 at 16:13

"Hun Sen’s greatest asset — as even his opponents acknowledge -– was that he secured what this country needed most–peace." Yes…that is what all dictatorship regimes stake their claim.  On closer look, the so-called peace is not through democratic process but through the barrel of guns, intimidation, coercion, violent, and killing of those who both criticize and oppose the CPP.  

Khmer_man
June 26, 2013 at 01:00

Hun Sen has to go…This is not Democracy.  It's a barbaric government today in Cambodia.

[...] Hun Sen’s Battle for Middle Earth | The Diplomat. [...]

Nene7Shumal
February 3, 2013 at 05:03

Manila was not the only offended party, other ASEAN leaders did not get opportunity to have a resolution on the growing aggression in the sea lanes. The protocols were not followed properly, would’ve been a great forum to address issues. History now shows where Cambodia stands. The story is factual fair and balanced in my opinion.

February 1, 2013 at 10:29

[...] http://thediplomat.com/2013/01/29/hun-sens-battle-for-middle-earth-2/ This entry was posted in News/Articles. Bookmark the permalink. ← KPNC Letter to President Obama [...]

Share your thoughts

Your Name
required
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment
required

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief