LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA —
Lieutenant General Hun Manet has defended his father Prime Minister Hun Sen’s record, saying people should remember the role Hun Sen played in bringing peace and national reconciliation to the country.
“Peace and stability have brought Cambodia to where it is now,” Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son, told VOA Khmer in an exclusive interview. “These are the basis for development and hope for the future of our people. These are two crucial foundations.”
Rights groups have criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen’s 30-year rule for its harsh treatment of political opponents, rampant corruption, over-exploitation of natural resources, and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Despite offering a defense of Hun Sen’s record, Manet said it was up to the people to choose how to define the strongman’s legacy.
“For the general population, they should consider that in evaluating a person’s legacy they must look at every aspect,” he said. “Even the opposition party or some individuals who say that there is no freedom or the government is a dictatorship, they are using the freedom [created by Hun Sen] to express their opinion to say that there is a dictatorship. They are using different means, like media, Facebook or whatever, that are in use or have been allowed.”
Over one million Cambodian migrant workers are employed in Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, and other countries in the region. Critics say this labor exodus is evidence the government has failed to provide jobs at home.
However, Manet said there were also some positive aspects of Cambodia’s migrant worker issue.
Cambodian migrant workers get off from a Thai truck upon their arrival from Thailand at a Cambodia-Thai international border gate in Poipet, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The number of Cambodians who have returned home from Thailand.
“Migration, which has seen our people working in Thailand, is not all negative,” he said. “There are positive aspects to it, too, if they go to work legally and we have measures to support the rights and benefits of our laborers overseas.”
He added that migrant workers gain valuable skills which they can use to secure higher paying jobs or form businesses when they return, while the government is working to boost the local jobs market by providing more information to job-seekers, training the workforce, developing new industries and finding new markets for agricultural products.
Manet, who recently concluded a 10-day tour of the US that was marred by street protests, said he has been unfairly tarred with the same brush as his father and encouraged observers to focus on his personal contributions to the country.
Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (front 2nd R), former Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat (front R) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (front C) pose with Hun Sen's extended family during their meeting at the latter's house in Phnom Penh, Camboida.
“If you accuse the father and that accusation spreads to his children, then would that also mean even my children and … [my father's] grandchildren are also involved?”
“If you dare to use your rights to accuse other people, you must dare to be accountable. You have an obligation to show whose land Hun Manet grabbed, who Hun Manet killed and where Hun Manet spread communist ideology. You have to prove these [accusations], not just say them.” (additional reporting by Say Mony)