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Friday, September 29, 2006

Julio Jeldres' open letter to Australian PM John Howard on Hun Sen's visit to Australia

Ambassador Julio A. Jeldres
Official Biographer of His Majesty The King Father
Samdech Preah Upayuvareach Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia
Chairman of The Khmer Institute of Democracy

An Open Letter to the Right Honourable John Howard, MP.
Prime Minister of Australia
26 September 2006

The Rt. Honourable John Howard, MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Parliament House

Dear Mr. Howard,


I was most interested in your interview on ABC Radio/Radio Australia (Pacific Beat) on 14 September 2006 in which you stated that Australia “remains concerned about the level of corruption and poor governance” in the Solomon Islands, adding that “I have no doubt that the people of the Solomon Islands want Australia to remain involved and committed and our goal is to help the people of the Solomon Islands. We are not trying to take sides politically, but we are determined that if Australia is to continue to pour the millions of our taxpayers dollars into that country, in return we have to see some improvement in economic growth, and some reduction in corruption and some improvement in governance”.

I would like to express my sincere congratulations for those noble words. I am sure the people of the Solomon Islands have welcomed your remarks and applauded their conviction.

It is most regrettable, however, that the same policy, so nobly enunciated by you on that ABC Radio interview does not apply to the people of Cambodia, who have suffered so much through no fault of their own.

Indeed, I was greatly disturbed to learn that you will be hosting the Cambodian Prime Minister on an official visit to Australia from 8 to 14 October 2006. I find it insulting, as an Australian citizen, that my government should invite to Australia, at the tax payer’s expense, one of the most undemocratic leaders of Southeast Asia, who presides over one of the most corrupt government in the world, where there is no rule of law, complete lack of transparency and good governance and where any criticism or peaceful opposition is met by threats, imprisonment and often death.

May I, respectfully give you some facts, some food for thought, about Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodia, that may be your advisers and intelligence services failed to provide you before this outrageous invitation was issued to him to visit our country:

DRUGS: Cambodia, under Mr. Hun Sen’s rule has become a centre for criminal organizations involved in illicit drug production and trafficking, smuggling and exploitation of human beings, kidnappings, arms trafficking and extortion. Hundreds of kilograms of heroin pass through its territory every year destined for countries such as Australia. It is estimated that 10 to 20 kilos of heroin are trafficked through Cambodia every day.

Indeed, the 400 grams of heroin that Nguyen Tuong Van carried when he was arrested and then executed in Singapore, last year, came from Cambodia.

More than 100.000 methamphetamine tablets enter Cambodia each day. 25 % of that number is exported to Thailand and the reminder 75% to countries such as Australia, the US and Europe.

1,000 tons of marijuana are produced annually, mostly for export. Australia is one of the major destinations. According to a report by the Australian National Council on Drugs, to be made public in Sydney tomorrow, Cambodia is now the world's biggest source of cannabis.

Two of Mr. Hun Sen’s closest friends have been identified as involved in drug trafficking, one of them has been banned from ever visiting the United States. Mr. Hun Sen has taken no action against these people and they remain in his inner circle of friends.

Human Trafficking: Australia has made recently a generous contribution to the fight against human trafficking in the Mekong region. Yet in Cambodia, the Director of the National Police, a close associate of Mr. Hun Sen, has been denied a visa to enter the USA because the State Department felt there “were sufficient reports and allegations concerning his role in trafficking in persons to justify the visa denial”. Yet this same person has, I am reliably informed, a multi entry visa for Australia.

Corruption: Article 1 of Cambodia's constitution states that the country will be governed according to the principles of "liberal democracy and pluralism". But when Hun Sen’s government grants long leases or concessions to development companies to work on state-owned land, it pays little heed to the wishes of the people who make a living on that land.

Not very democratic, especially when the companies seem to be closely connected to senior members of the government or armed forces. If you speak to ordinary Cambodians about democracy, they will tell you two things. First, that the land is being stolen from the people, 85% of whom live in rural areas and 75% of whom are subsistence farmers. And second, that corruption is everywhere, from the top to the bottom of society.

U.N. human-rights expert Peter Leuprecht says his last visit to Cambodia in November 2005, left him more pessimistic than ever about the future of the country.

He said the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen seems to be increasingly autocratic and is concentrating power behind what he calls a shaky facade of democracy.

Mr. Leuprecht calls impunity a "gangrene" that undermines the fabric of Cambodian society. He says the necessary mechanisms for accountability are not in place.

"The judiciary is very weak," he said. "There is no separation of powers in Cambodia, and the rule of law, also in this respect, is elusive. Now, among many other things, impunity fosters corruption, which is endemic in Cambodia. It is everywhere, at all levels."

Let me, Mr. Prime Minister, give you, one more example, to illustrate my point even better. Cambodia’s health record is among the worst in Asia. Maternal mortality rates are the highest in the region, with 437 deaths per 100.000 live births. One in ten babies does not live and more than 60,000 babies die every year of malnutrition or diseases that can be prevented or cured.

Yet, between 5 and 10 per cent of the health budget disappears before it is paid out by the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Health. More money, including probably Australian aid, is then siphoned off as funds are channelled down from the national government to the provincial governors and to the directors of operational districts, and then to the directors or managers of local hospitals and clinics.

Mr. Hun Sen has made promises every single time a Donor’s Meeting has been held that he will root out these practices. Time and time again, the international community have believed him and granted him additional funds, which end up never reaching the poor people of Cambodia but rather the pockets of corrupt officials. And legislation promised to curb corruption has never been enacted.

Governance and rule of the law: Alexander Downer seems to enjoy telling me, every time I make representations on the situation in Cambodia, that the country “enjoys stability and has made significant progress since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent civil unrest”. If that is the case, why is it that every one is so scare in Cambodia? From members of the Royal Family to public servants, judges, teachers and ordinary citizens, everybody is scare.

Everything depends on one individual, Hun Sen, and that is, I am afraid not really a precondition under which good governance, rule of law and human rights can flourish.

The fact is that today Cambodia is a Potemkin democracy, with the sham façade of elections and a constitutional monarchy but the dreary reality of an uninterrupted dictatorship since Mr. Hun Sen took charge of the country, with the absence of a real opposition, parliamentary debate and an independent judiciary.

The David Wilson case: Last but not least, Hun Sen is directly responsible for the death of our compatriot David Wilson of Melbourne. At the time, in 1994, I was still living in Phnom Penh and was asked to receive General Chea Dara, who was the officer of the Royal Cambodian Army in charge of negotiating with the rogue Khmer Rouge elements who had kidnapped Mr. Wilson and his two European companions. I did receive General Chea Dara and he asked me to convey a message to King Sihanouk and also to the Australian Embassy. The message was: “Please pay the ransom and do not attempt to shell the place where the hostages are being held”. I informed His Majesty and also Mr. Paul Griegson, then Deputy Chief of Mission in Phnom Penh. I also informed another Australian embassy officer, who was the ASIS attaché at the Embassy.

General Chea Dara explained to me that Hun Sen wanted to shell the Khmer Rouge encampment in order to get sympathy from the international community, to obtain arms and military equipment and to maintain the belief that the Khmer Rouge were still a problem in Cambodia, in order to win over his rivals and be seen as the person that solved the Khmer Rouge problem.

What happened next is well known, while first Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh was on a trip to Malaysia, Hun Sen ordered the shelling of the Khmer Rouge encampment where Mr. Wilson and his European companions were held, and the later were executed by their captors.

For all the above reasons, I believe Mr. Hun Sen should not be welcome to our country, to do so would send the wrong message. It would convey the idea that Australia supports Mr. Hun Sen and his undemocratic actions.

Asian history is littered with aspiring democracy movements that rose only to be crushed by authoritarian regimes while the West looked on silence. This attitude of the West, Australia included, has had a lasting impact on the region’s democratic development. It is time, Sir that you and the Foreign Minister cease approaching Cambodia with a guilty historical conscience and address the abysmal rights record of Mr. Hun Sen and his close associates.

I would respectfully urge, Mr. Prime Minister, to treat the people of Cambodia, who have suffered more than the people of the Solomon Islands, with the same respect you have shown for the people of the Solomon Islands and not to insult them by welcoming Mr. Hun Sen to Australia.

Yours sincerely,


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