Tag Archives: U.S. Asian Policy

Vietnam Era Renegade Army Discovered: Lighting the darkness: FULRO’s jungle Christians

28 Oct

Lighting the darkness: FULRO’s jungle Christians     

Vietnam Era Renegade Army Discovered

By Nate Thayer

(This story appeared in the Phnom Penh Post and  as the cover story in the Far Eastern Economic Review.  I discovered, in the remote Northeastern Cambodian jungles along the Ho Chi Minh trail along the Vietnamese border, an army literally lost in time. Eventually all 398 FULRO fighters and families were given political asylum in the U.S., after the high pressure intervention of their former U.S. army special forces comrades learned they were still, 17 years after the Americans withdrew, fighting the Vietnam War. They are all now settled in the U.S., mostly in North Carolina.

Friday, 25 September, 1992

By Nate Thayer

MONDULKIRI, Cambodia – Accompanied by a chorus of crickets and the steady drumming of rain on the leaf roofs of their huts, scores of Montagnard fighters and their families gather in the jungle darkness each night to pray and sing.

Having long ago fled ideological restrictions in Vietnam for a religious sanctuary deep in the forest, the soldiers are members of FULRO–the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races-which has fought for a separate homeland in Vietnam for their hill tribe people since 1964.

Lamps fueled by chunks of slow-burning tree resin give light to the few shared tattered bibles and hymnals as Christian songs of worship echo through the otherwise uninhabited forest. Familiar gospel hymns are sung in the tribal dialects of the mountains.

For many at FULRO’s scattered guerrilla bases, the ability to pray freely was a main motivation to flee their villages in Vietnam’s central highlands 17 years ago.

Fulro Catholic Priest at Servies in Jungle Church Where They Fled From Religious Persecution in Vietnam

Fulro Catholic Priest at Services in Jungle Church Where They Fled From Religious Persecution in Vietnam

“The communists will not let us pray. They say that Christianity is an American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle,” said Lt.-Col. Y Hinnie. “In our land under the communists, people pray at home secretly or in the rice fields. They cannot worship together like we do in the jungle. Here we are free.”

Each of the five jungle encampments in the FULRO rear base area have an Evangelical church, while there is a lone Catholic church in the main guerrilla camp. Nearly 40 people share a single bible for the daily Catholic Mass and at weekend services. The church consists of pews of wooden logs lined neatly in a clearing, a towering rough-hewn cross behind the altar.

Similar Evangelical churches, cut into clearings surrounded by 30-meter high hardwood trees, are packed with more than 350 worshipers for the daily two-hour evening service and brief early morning prayers. Each church has its own pastor, and worshipers bring large green leaves as hassocks to kneel on the damp forest floor.

These believers are the legacy of Christian missionaries who lived in the Central Highlands until 1975, when the last of them were expelled by the current government in Vietnam. Many of the missionaries had mastered the local dialects, translating Bibles and hymnals into the region’s Rade, Jarai and Koho languages.

The guerrillas also tune into weekly radio sermons delivered in their native languages by a powerful shortwave radio station in Manila operated by the Christian Missionary Alliance.

A guerrilla congregation reels off the names of “their” missionaries like a litany: “In Pleiku, Mr. Long and Mr. Fleming and in Dalat, Helen Evans, she is from America too. Ken Swain from Darlac, he preaches in our language on the radio every Saturday now.”

FULRO officials say some of the missionaries’ involvement with the Montagnards went beyond simply bringing the scriptures to the area. They said some of them were active in the waning days of U.S. involvement in the early 1970s in running guns to the guerrillas.

Following the collapse of the South Vietnamese regime in 1975, FULRO leaders say, the communists set about systematically dismantling Christian churches. Many of the Montagnards’ religious leaders were arrested and killed after the communist victory in 1975, they say.

“They take our pastors, preachers and Christians and put them in jail,” said FULRO’s military Commander-in-Chief Col Y Peng Ayun. “We don’t hate any one man because we are Christians, but we can never trust the communists,” he added.

Two prominent Montagnard pastors from Ban Me Thuot, Y Ham Nic Hrah and Y Lico Nie, died in the early 1980s after many years of harsh conditions in prison, according to the guerrillas. “Here, we worship no matter what,” said Pastor Budar Su Khong, 52, from Dalat. “Jesus said ‘Come to me whoever is tired, and I will bring you rest.’ We are very tired. Please take a message to Christians in other countries to pray for us, and we will pray for them.”

Vietnam War Era Renegade Army Discovered In Mondulkiri

By Nate Thayer

Abandoned for years by their own leaders and former foreign military backers, an anti-Hanoi Montagnard army based in northeast Cambodia has a plea for protection.

The military combatants of FULRO-the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races-have waged a lonely battle for a separate homeland in Vietnam for their hilltribe people since 1964.

The recent discovery of the Montagnard army in Mondulkiri province prompted Phnom Penh’s Interior Ministry to inform U.N. peacekeeping forces that unless the group-formerly given sanctuary by the Khmer Rouge-is disarmed they would attack them.

Under threat from the Phnom Penh regime, expelled by the Khmer Rouge, and a thorn in the side to Vietnam, FULRO is presenting an interesting if not painful dilemma to U.N. officials in Phnom Penh.

UNTAC-mandated to verify the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Cambodia-may be obligated to ensure the return of the group to Vietnamese soil if they insist on continuing to wage war.

But UNHCR-responsible for protecting people with a “well founded fear of persecution”-may have to offer asylum to the fighters if they are in danger of being sent back to Vietnam, where they certainly would face imprisonment.

That, in turn, could open the floodgates to thousands of requests for political asylum from Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

“We have enough problems in Cambodia dealing with the four factions, and now this army we never even heard of turns up,” said one UNTAC military official.

American diplomats in Phnom Penh and U.N. military officials in Cambodia are urging that UNHCR grant the group refugee status to begin the process of third country asylum, and give them temporary protection from military attack.

But FULRO Commander-in-Chief Y Peng Ayun and his forces are reluctant to accept giving up their fight without first getting U.N. protection.

“If we give up our weapons, they will take us back to Vietnam or the Vietnamese will come get us,” Ayun said. “If I go to the U.S., I don’t want to stay a long time there, because I have responsibility to liberate my country.”

When two correspondents visited FULRO’s remote guerrilla headquarters last month, they found an army unaware of the world around them and desperately seeking instructions and resupply from their leadership.

Col. Ayun and his lieutenants gathered around the reporters, hungrily seeking information. “Please, can you help us find our president, Y’Bham Enuol?” Colonel Ayun asked. “We have been waiting for contact and orders from our president since 1975. Do you know where he is?”

Neither Ayun nor his troops, who gathered around to meet the first journalists to find them since they fled to the jungles after the American defeat in Indochina in 1975, knew that their leader was executed 17 years before by the Khmer Rouge.

They fell silent when informed; some wept quietly.

Situated in a string of five villages carved out of dense forest along a raging river, the group of 407 guerrillas and their families have no access to even the smallest luxury items except from fighters returning from Vietnam.

There is no medicine or schools, and many of the soldiers and their families have only the clothes they wear and rifles. Bamboo huts with roofs of leaves provide shelter.

“The food we get from the forest. The forest belongs to FULRO.” said Lt. Col. Y Hinnie. “We don’t have food or medicine, so it is difficult. But with food and medicine the jungle is a very nice place. We are used to it.”

The rivers nearby abound with crocodiles, huge catfish, and fresh water porpoises and the surrounding jungle-thick with mosquitos-is home to elephants and a host of deadly snakes.

The combatants and their families are traditionally rice eating people, but they are unable to farm rice here with the enemy constantly forcing movement.

A staple of corn, with jungle cucumbers, pumpkins, and hot green peppers are all they have. For part of the year they survive on poisonous potatoes that must be carefully processed for five days to extract a deadly toxin.

“We must eat it slowly until our bodies get used to it or it will kill you,” Hinnie said, “But the poison is also the medicine we use to cure snakebites.” Nearby a soldier lay paralyzed from a snakebite he received three months before.

“This tree has the medicine we use for malaria and this one here we can use to treat diarrhea,” Hinnie said, pointing.

The army has no maps or compasses. “But we can guide ourselves by stars and winds of the seasons. We can tell by which side of the tree is wet during different months exactly which direction we are going,” he said.

Hinnie spoke credible English from his days as a young boy with Christian missionaries, as well as Khmer, Vietnamese, and French, and several tribal dialects, and translated for others who spoke in Rade. His skills have given him the title of “the FULRO Military Delegation’s Representative of Foreign Affairs.”

But his knowledge of world events is spotty. “We would like you to take a message to U Thant,” he said, referring to the former U.N. Secretary-General. Asking about the cold war, he said, “I hear that President George Bush now contacts with the Russians.”

He is charged with listening to the shortwave radio each morning, tuning in VOA, BBC, Christian radio, and Radio Vietnam to keep the group abreast of foreign developments.

Hinnie told amazed fighters of the fax machine: “You take a letter and put it in a telephone and it comes out in one minute in America,” he explained.

The Forgotten Army

A number of soldiers appeared to introduce themselves in English as having fought with the Americans.

“You are the first foreigner I have seen since 1975,” said Bhong Rcam, 47, “The Americans usually call me Tiny.”

Like many of the fighters of FULRO, he worked with the U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After the U.S. withdrawal he was jailed by Hanoi, before joining FULRO in the jungle in 1976.

During the Vietnam War FULRO was supplied with millions of dollars of U.S. equipment, and before that, used as allies to further the objectives of the French and various Vietnamese regimes.

When the North Vietnamese launched decisive offensives in March 1975, FULRO leaders say that senior U.S. officials in Saigon promised continued support for the Montagnards and pledged to covertly support their fight.

Well equipped with American weapons and promises of more as South Vietnam crumbled in the spring of 1975, FULRO waited for the Americans who never returned, eventually re-grouping in the jungle.

“The Montagnard people and the Americans are like one family,” said Lt. Col. Hinnie. “I am not angry, but very sad that the Americans forgot us. The Americans are like our elder brother, so it is very sad when your brother forgets you.”

FULRO continued to launch attacks on Vietnam for four years after the U.S. withdrawal, fielding a fierce army of 10,000 fighters. But by 1979 they were running low on ammunition and had suffered huge casualties, with more than 8,000 of their fighters killed or captured.

In 1979 FULRO abandoned their bases in Vietnam and moved to the jungles on the Cambodian side of the Vietnamese frontier, switching to underground networks and small guerrilla strikes in their four regions of operations in Vietnam-Quang Duc, Darlac, Pleiku, and Kon Tum.

Previously given sanctuary by the Khmer Rouge in areas under their control, FULRO was expelled from Khmer Rouge zones in January to a remote area of Mondulkiri province. Khmer Rouge officials in Phnom Penh say they had given FULRO sanctuary since 1979, despite having fallen out with their leadership in 1986.

“They had no political vision. Their fighters are very, very brave, but they had no support from any leadership, no food, and they did not understand at all the world around them,” said one senior Khmer Rouge official.

Jungle Christians

Col. Ayun complained bitterly of the treatment of his people by the Hanoi government.

“My people suffer terribly under the Vietnamese communist regime,” he recounted from a thatched hut in the forest. “They came and took our land, and made it theirs. They try to erase our language and force us to speak Vietnamese. They have taken our fertile land and forced us to the bad land.

“They say they have come to build progress for my people, but they have come to kill, arrest, and oppress my people.”

For many at FULRO’s scattered guerrilla bases, the ability to pray freely and practice Christianity was a main motivation to flee Vietnam. Each of the five villages in the FULRO area have an evangelical church, while there is a lone Catholic church in the main guerrilla camp.

“The Communists will not let us pray,” Col. Hinnie said. “They say that Christianity is an American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle.”

Col. Ayun requested to meet with the American ambassador to seek advice on whether his group would get the aid he said was long promised and to seek proof of the death of their leader.
“We are the troops of President Y Bham Enuol,” he said.

“If he has died, we want proof from the United Nations. The Americans had a whole plan for Indochina. I want to meet face to face with the American ambassador. I have a plan for the future, and they should know clearly our position for the revolutionary struggle. We want to know whether they will help us or not.”

But the chances of U.S. support for Ayun and his forces are dim, and FULRO faces a whole new series of difficulties.

Montagnard leaders now living in the U.S. appealed to Col. Ayun to give up the fight. “Due to unfavorable circumstances, I suggest it is time to stop fighting, to find different ways to reach our ultimate goal,” said Pierre K’briuh in a recent message to the FULRO fighters.

K’briuh is a leader of the former FULRO troops now in the United States and he himself was jailed by Hanoi until the early 1980s.

“President Y-Bham Enuol and his entourage were executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975,” he wrote.

“Therefore, based on common sense, lay down your weapons and appeal at once to the U.N. for political asylum to join us here. We don’t have any other choice.”

Col. Ayun and his troops say that if they have proof that Y Bham Enuol is indeed dead, they will consider going to the U.S.

“But even if we go to another country, our resistance will continue until we get our own land, until we get back the land that belonged to us before,” Ayun said.

“I don’t want to go to a free nation,” he added. “I want to stay here because this is my battlefield. It is my responsibility. But I have no supplies or help from free countries.”


How Hordes of U.S. Republican Party Apparatchik’s Toppled the Mongolian Communist Descendants of Genghis Khan

6 Oct

How Hordes of U.S. Republican Party Apparatchik’s Toppled the Mongolian Communist Descendants of Genghis Khan

Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with the Mongolian Voter” was the single largest printed and most widely distributed document in Mongolian History, and Crucial to Overthrowing History’s Second Longest Ruling Communist Government Without Shedding a Drop of Blood:

The  “Contract with Mongolia.”

From the archives of contemporary history.

By Nate Thayer

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The Washington Post

April 6, 1997

On a stool in his portable felt and canvas yurt, Yadamsuren, a 70-year-old nomadic sheepherder, offered a visitor chunks of sheep fat and shots of fermented mare’s milk to ward off the unspeakable cold.

Seventy miles of bleak desert northeast of Ulan Bator and many miles from the nearest neighbor, he spoke glowingly of the work of then U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the Republican Party. “I read the `Contract With the Voter’ closely. Everybody did,” he said, explaining why he decided to vote for a new government in Mongolian elections last June. “In the contract, they clearly say what society and the people can do for each other.”

American hordes, led by the Republican Party, have invaded the steppes of Mongolia in recent years. Instead of cavalries, they have comprised teams of election strategists and campaign organizers, who mobilized a once ragtag Mongolian opposition to achieve victory in national elections last June 30.

In what was once an impenetrable Soviet satellite, a remarkably young democratic government has taken power, creating Asia’s first successful transition from communism to democracy.

A key element behind the victory, say Mongolia’s new leaders, was a carefully engineered strategy by American Republican political operatives to end 75 years of Communist Party control. And the tool that the Mongolian Democratic Union credits for victory was none other than the “Contract With America,” the platform used in 1994 by revitalized Republicans to sweep into control of the U.S. Congress.

“This form of signing a contract with the people is a new achievement of the Mongolian political system, even of political science,” said Prime Minister M. Enkhsaikhan in a recent interview, smiling in his drab Soviet-built office in the main government square in Ulan Bator.

But today the halls of government in Ulan Bator could be mistaken for a university campus. Of the 50 new Democratic Union coalition legislators who gained power in the elections, 36 are in their twenties or thirties; the prime minister is 41, the parliament speaker is 43, and the minister of defense is 38. “It is an unqualified success of political transformation,” said a Western diplomat here. “But the 50 Democratic Union MP’s and new government have virtually no previous political experience. The phrase `complete chaos’ has been used.”

When the Russians built a capital for their first satellite country, populated by nomadic herdsmen, they named it Ulan Bator, which means “red hero” in Mongolian.

But the winds of political change have swept again across this isolated but strategically important corner of northeast Asia. Mongolia’s new freewheeling democracy has scores of newspapers, dozens of political parties and vigorous debate within the government, achieved without bloodshed or resistance from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, the once-Stalinist Communist Party in uninterrupted power since 1921. Under the pressure of demonstrations in 1990, the government promised political and economic reforms, and the first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in 1992. The disorganized opposition only garnered six seats, leaving the other 70 — and the government — firmly in the hands of the Revolutionary Party.

In the wake of the crushing defeat, the Mongolian opposition began to work together with Republican advisers to transform itself into a unified force with formidable campaigning skills. Such peaceful transformation stands in stark contrast to the turmoil that has beset Russia and many former Soviet satellites after the collapse of communism.

“For decades Mongolia was under the domination of foreign countries,” Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan said in an interview with the Post . “So really Mongolia itself is a new nation.”

The U.S. Republican Party help to the fledgling Mongolian democratic opposition began in late 1991. “It was a personal request from Secretary of State {James} Baker. He called us up when he returned from {an official visit to} Ulan Bator and said, `I think you need to do something there to help the democratization process,` “ said Kirsten Edmondson, the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) program manager for Mongolia. IRI — the Republican wing of the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy — dispatched staff members to Mongolia. They convinced squabbling groups of opposition forces — political parties, students, activists, nongovernmental organizations, intellectuals and businessmen — to form a united coalition.

IRI then trained candidates and supporters from the newly created National Democratic Union in the science of targeting voters with relevant messages, grass-roots party development and membership recruitment.

As the campaign season began in late 1995, Gingrich sent the authors of the “Contract With America” to Ulan Bator. Working with the Democratic Union, they drafted the “Contract With the Mongolian Voter.”

Even the new Mongolian election law was lifted verbatim from the election law manual of Texas, Mongolian and IRI officials said.

The Contract with the Mongolian Voter called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment.

It became the most widely distributed document in Mongolian history, according to Mongolian officials, with 350,000 copies printed in 1996.

The Americans convinced the opposition candidates of the importance of hitting the campaign trail — a concept previously unheard of here — personally taking their message to the far-flung corners of this country of 2.5 million people just under the size of Alaska.

And it was voters such as Yadamsuren, who like many Mongolians uses only one name, who put the new government in power. A herder like more than half of Mongolia’s population, he owns 50 cows and sheep, which grazed nearby in minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit weather.

While his wife melted snow on a coal stove for drinking water for the livestock, he talked of giving the young opposition forces a chance to change Mongolia: “People understood that this new government wanted to put Mongolia on the same footing with other countries. We decided to give them the power to do it.”

And it was the contract that persuaded him to vote out the Communists, he said. “We knew before the elections there were promises in the contract that could not be fulfilled, like raising the pensions. But in general, in a strategic sense, {the new leaders} are doing important things. We decided to give the younger generation a chance.”

In dozens of interviews with ordinary Mongolians during a one-month trip through the country, all were familiar with the “Contract with the Mongolian Voter” and every Mongolian nomad living in the vast desert country in their portable tent-like traditional dwelling, known as a Ger, in this 15th largest nation on earth that straddles China and the former Soviet Union, knew who Newt Gingrich was.

On June 30, 1996, dressed in their finest traditional clothing, and traveling by horse, camel and on foot, 91 percent of the Mongolian electorate turned out to vote — -the biggest turnout by far in Mongolian history. The result stunned everyone, including the victors. Baker was on hand to witness the victory, having returned as a private citizen to serve as an official election monitor.

Diplomats and Mongolian officials agree that the Communists grossly miscalculated voter sentiment and the opposition’s organization. All 50 of the newly elected legislators were trained by IRI, according to government leaders. IRI and Mongolian officials said the Communist candidates were offered training and assistance in campaign strategy by the Americans, but turned it down.

But diplomats and Mongolian officials are quick to credit the Communists for the smooth transition. “In many ways they are the unsung heroes. They had the army and the power. They could have just refused to turn it over,” said an American diplomat.

In a July letter, two former leaders of the democratic opposition who suddenly found themselves head of parliament and the majority leader praised IRI and “all of our friends in America”: “The victory of democracy in Mongolia demonstrates that the values of life, liberty, freedom of speech and respect for human rights and justice are not just American values, but universal values inherent in all peoples, including the people of Asia,” they said. “We want to thank our American friends who worked so hard to make this possible. The International Republican Institute stood side by side with us.”

Travels With Vice President LBJ: “Son, if you do this again, I am going to poison your soup.”

25 Dec

Travels With Vice President LBJ: “Son, if you do this again, I am going to poison your soup.” Excerpts from Interviews with Former U.S. Diplomat Ambassador Harry E.T. Thayer by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

For Christmas, my father gave me a gift of a bound booklet he put together detailing some of his experiences as a diplomat, a foreign service officer for the U.S. state department, where he was a China specialist during a 30 year career from the 1950’s through the 1990’s that spanned many important periods and major changes in the U.S-China relationship.

Much of these memories are preserved as available public records at the Library of Congress where nearly 2000 diplomats have recorded detailed interviews of their roles in how the behind the scenes machine and ambiance and color and details of history is actually made. The archives are a collection of a treasure trove of riveting information, the work of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

I will post more excerpts which cover such important issues as the McCarthy era Red-baiting, intimidation and purges of U.S. government China specialists accused of being communist sympathizers for supporting engaging China through diplomacy, to China policy under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter etc, and the behind the scenes activities of major movers and shakers from Henry Kissinger to Richard Holbrooke; the normalization of relations with Beijing; the shift to derecognize Taiwan; China becoming a recognized member of the United Nations; and numerous both small and momentous parts of history as it is played out in reality by those U.S. government grunts executing policy on a day to day basis.

The following is a humorous, if historically decidedly very minor, anecdote that provides a sense of the ambiance of the stories collected by the Oral History Project.

My father recounted the story during Christmas lunch, and this is the version from the transcript of the Oral History Project.

After, as a young Foreign Service Officer serving in his first overseas posting in Hong Kong as a consular officer at the U.S embassy in the late 1950’s, he was reluctantly called back to serve in an administrative job at the State Department East Asia Bureau in Washington, which he fought against as he, at the time, sought to begin intensive Chinese language study, but ultimately lost out and returned to Washington to start the unwanted assignment.

Q: How did that play out?

Harry Thayer: Well, it played out like so many things. I got interested in it, and I learned a lot about how the Foreign Service is run. They put me in the East Asia Bureau while Walter Robertson was still there, which gave me a kind of taste of things. And it was quite instructive. I learned a lot about the Foreign Service and working in the bureaucracy. And I learned a lot about management and these sorts of things, learned a lot about Congress, writing justifications for funds to the Hill. That was all quite instructive. I also met a lot of the personalities involved in China and Asia affairs. I, also, in May 1961, suddenly got yanked off to go on a trip as a coat-holder for LBJ (Lyndon Johnson) when he was vice president, went around the world as an aide to this LBJ first around the world trip

Q: This was a rather famous one, wasn’t it?

THAYER: The famous one, May of ’61. We went out to tell Diem in Vietnam that we would support him forever, but we went to Guam and Midway and manila and Taipei, Hong Kong, Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Athens, Wheelus Air Force base (Libya), Bermuda, and Washington. And it was the Goddamnedest trip I’ve ever made, learned a lot, and I was a physical wreck at the end of it. But it was an eye opener and a lot of fun.

Q: I realize that you were pretty far down the pecking line, but did you see anything of LBJ in action?

THAYER: I saw a good deal of LBJ in action. I was on his plane, in the first place. Even between Washington and Travis Air Force base I saw him in action. We put down at Travis.

Q: That’s in California

THAYER: Right. Travis Air base in California. We were on our way to Honolulu, the first substantive stop, where LBJ was to open the East-West center. And I don’t want to make this too long, but it is kind of illustrative. Bill Crocket, a senior State administrator, was on the trip. Bill Crocket was a guy in whom LBJ had confidence, so Crocket ended up travelling with Johnson wherever he went. And Crocket was my super boss in our group. Along on this trip on the substantive side was “China” Ed Martin, along with Dick Ericson, who was then a special assistant to the EA (East Asia) front office.

Anyhow, Crocket was my basic boss, and I was told on the airplane, as we began to fly across the United States with Crocket, that “You, Harry, have got to go up front (of the 707) and answer this message sent on the plane’s radio to Honolulu about the motorcade in Honolulu. There are a lot of problems with this motorcade, we want you to go up and send this message. I was just a messenger boy. In any event, with the message in hand, I had to walk up front. Incidentally, there were two 707’s on this trip. One was for the press and one was for the official group.

LBJ was spread across the center aisle (the only aisle) up in the front of the plane where there were tables in a VIP configuration. But his long legs were stretched across the aisle as he was talking to one of the young secretaries. I had to say “Excuse me, Mr. vice president” to get up to the communications place. So I went by and I said excuse me Mr. vice president. I went up and I sent the message or called the message to Honolulu about the Goddamn motorcade. Then I came back and said “Excuse me, Mr. vice president.” And he had to pull in his long legs and gave me a dirty look. About ten minutes later, Crocket said “Harry, I want you to go up there and send this other message.”

I said, “You know the Vice president is giving me some very dirty looks there.”

He said, “Send the message.”

So I walked up there, and I said, “Excuse me Mr. Vice President.” He had to pull his legs back in and stop the conversation with this young luscious that he was talking to and gave me a very dirty nasty look. And I went up there and sent the message and came back, and there were his legs spread out in front. To my horror, I had to say again, “Excuse me Mr. Vice President.”

And the Vice president looked me right in the eye. He said, “Son, if you do this once again, I am going to put poison in your soup.”

And as I remember, I said something like, “In that case, Mr. Vice president, I’ll have to get a taster.” I really remember I said it, but I am really not sure. Anyhow, that was my first exposure to LBJ.

I will say there are a lot of other tales I could tell about LBJ, but one thing on this trip, LBJ was really terribly hard to deal with. Everybody found him hard to deal with. Lady Bird was the balance. And she was often nudging the Vice President to be a little bit more polite, to take into account, to praise and so forth, the Foreign Service people that were with him.”

Obama: Support Cambodian Human Rights, Democratic Freedoms, and Those Resisting the Last Murderous Thug Left Standing in South East Asia

18 Nov

Obama Must Side With the Rights and Dignity of  Cambodians, Not Strengthen the Last Thug Left Standing in Power in South East Asia. If Not Cambodia, where? If not now when?

If the U.S. won’t support those fighting for democratic freedoms in Cambodia, a country no longer with significant political, economic, military, or strategic value to the region or world, the poster child of  the modern era for unspeakable suffering by government, then where else on earth will they?

Villagers feel totally helpless as they see no recourse against official arbitrary violence and abuses. Deprived of any means to seek justice, even when their children are taken away and being murdered, they swallow their anger and sadness, bow to the powers that be, accept with resignation their fate and withdraw in silence, knowing after long years of oppressive experience that words can kill.”  1994 UN Center for Human Rights confidential report.

The United States Government is almost as afraid of former Khmer Rouge military officer, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as the millions of Cambodians who suffer in fear living under the incompetent jackboot of  the rapacious, corrupt failed nation state he controls.

Hun Sen in a fit of rage on 14 Nov 2011

And by the U.S. supplicating itself to the threats of a childish temper tantrum of an obscure toothless dictator whose decades old modus operandi is to only employ his violent thuggery against the weak and vulnerable, the Obama administration is damaging the reputation of America as a defender of the principles of human rights, democratic institutions, and the dignity of man by succumbing to the implicit blackmail threats of a tinpot ruler.

Portraits of President Barack Obama on the roof of houses near Phnom Penh Airport November 14, 2012.182 families are being evicted ahead of Obama’s visit. 8 were arrested for writing the appeal the day before the arrival of U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta and on the eve of the arrival of Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama

The so called non-conundrum at issue is either continue to bankroll the egregious Cambodian government repression, mute criticism of their use of murder by U.S. funded and trained security forces, keep quiet about the use of intimidation as routine policy by top leaders to line their pockets with corrupt money obtained through subordinating the common good of the nation to line their personal bank accounts, and demanding the U.S. make excuses for the total subjugation of the judicial system to political dictates as a tool to erase dissent in a an amateurish imitation of Singapore, and continue to bankroll with U.S. money which funds, strengthens, and gives legitimacy to this crudely transparent farce of a veneer of democracy or Hun Sen will take the proverbial football and go play only with China.

But even if one sets aside the immorality and cowardice of such a stand, it is a policy that has failed in its diplomatic objective. The evidence of such a strategy in which America has lavished hundreds of millions of dollars to finance and strengthen dictatorship, line the pockets of the corrupt leadership, and give moral support for the most egregious architect of oppression by government in Asia today has long proved itself to be a failed strategy.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours.” –Aung San Suu Kyi

In 2012, the last murderous thug left standing in power in South East Asia is shamelessly living off the decades old fumes of the suffering of it people decades ago under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge as an excuse to maintain the most murderous and corrupt government remaining in South East Asia today. And the Obama administration, acting like a gaggle of easily impressionable high school students, is falling for the ruse as the Cambodian government snickers derisively while consolidating its incompetent, thuggish control of the government propped up by the misguided sympathy and money of the properly organized countries who effectively pay for any services normally provided by a state while its rapacious leaders stuff their pockets with the change.

Hun Sen defending the murder torture and summary execution of scores of his opponents when he seized power by violent coup in 1997

Anyone who objects is humiliated, intimidated, sued, imprisoned, or murdered.

Cambodia, the last running sore in Southeast Asia, is a failed state. Not because it needs to be, but rather because it leader’s put their personal interests in front of  the common good and they are aided and abetted by the wealthy nations, who more than thirty years after this strategy was first employed still fall hook, line, and sinker for it.

Carnage scene after the grenade attack on opposition politician Sam Rainsy March 1997 carried out on Hun Sen’s orders, according to a repressed FBI investigation. Two months later he ousted the UN elected government in a 3 billion dollar effort. His putsch left hundreds dead and tortured, with their eyes gouged out, tongues ripped out with pliers, and penises cut off and stuffed in the victims mouths–all while alive. Thousands of opposition supporters fled to the jungle or to exile, and the fragile democracy was over. The U.S. refused to call the violent overthrow of the elected government a coup, as that would require the cessation of U.S. aid under U.S. law

Let’s look at the facts: Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were in power for three years eight months and 20 days more than thirty years ago. They were ousted by an internecine ideological dispute between communist governments and the United States  in 1979 by a Soviet sponsored invasion of Vietnam, not because the invading army objected to mass murder and crimes against humanity as state policy, but because their loyalists were next on the target list of Pol Pot’s profoundly delusional and murderous state policies.

]The Vietnamese installed in power a motley collection of former Pol Pot loyalists who served as puppets for the Vietnamese and their larger cold war allies until they could stand on their own feet. They remain in power today. The current prime minister, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, Finance Minister and thousands of provincial and local government leaders and officers in the security forces that comprise the current Cambodian government were loyalists of Pol Pot.

Former Pol Pot military officer and current Prime Minister Hun Sen flanked by two other former Pol Pot senior officials. On Hun Sen’s right is current Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who was a senior military officer under Pol Pot and to the Prime Ministers left is Current Finance Minister Kiet Chhon who was a personal aide to Pol Pot and didn’t leave the Khmer Rouge until the 1990’s, more than a decade after they were driven from power in 1979

Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, a former Khmer Rouge leader of a prison camp where scores were sent to their torture and execution as intellectuals deemed enemies while the current Foreign Minister headed the political prison camp

U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta on Friday in Cambodia where he met with his counterpart, Defence Minister Tea Banh, a former Khmer Rouge military officer who has overseen hundreds of political murders by his subordinates under the current government

One can argue whether this was at the time necessary or appropriate, but one cannot argue it is not fact. Cambodia stands as a nation state mainly as a symbol of some of the most egregious abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity as state policy of any government in our lifetime. Neither before or since Pol Pot, has a Cambodian government distinguished itself with much notable, the least of which is a willingness, or ability if one is to be pessimistic, to administer its affairs in a manner that is in league with the properly organized world. It is a failed state; a dependency political culture that has been unable to provide the most rudimentary of services that define a government, including education, health care, economic opportunity, a physical infrastructure of transportation, security, or basic freedoms, dignities, or opportunities for its citizens. More than half of its government budget is direct funding of donor nations. In sum, it is the last running sore of South East Asia, a failed state. It lives off the alms and misguided generosity of the it’s more capably organized neighbors and the wealthy nations of the world.

Senior Hun Sen security service officer Mok Chito at trial of the killing of a military police officer who himself assassinated conservationist Chut Wutty, Mok Chito has been trained and funded by the U.S. miltary. His office first claimed the assassinated conservationist committed suicide after shooting the military officer. The assertion was rejected as absurd by eyewitnesses and forensics and another military officer who was working for a private company connected to the government illegally logging national forests was convicted under intense international pressure earlier this year, but was later released from prison.

The net result is this has empowered a cabal of thugs, overwhelmingly dominated by former loyalists of Pol Pot, to create a personal fiefdom to enrich themselves, their families, and their minions.

The good people of Cambodia, meanwhile, suffer, unspeakably.

Assassinated journalist Khim Sambo funeral ceremony 2006

In a few hours, president Barrack Obama will be the first U.S. president to ever visit Cambodia. And it is probable that the representative of the symbol of hope for millions to support freedoms basic to the dignity of those aspiring to be, and be supported to attain, lives of a free people will take the side of the dictators, giving their tormentors moral support and money, with a wink and a nod accompanied by obligatory empty rhetoric promising long never forthcoming support to those who desperately deserve the tangible support in their heroic efforts to simply be free; To live a life where they have opportunities to create a better life for their children; where they can object to the abuses of those with guns , money, and political power without fear of death or reprisal; who have had their jackboot of the authorities firmly held on their necks of the great majority of Cambodian citizens, for many, for their entire lifetimes.

A cambodian elderly woman removes her shirt baring her breasts in protest to police violence and arrests of others who were forced from their homes after Cambodian government gave the land to politically connected Chinese developers offering the poor residents no compensation

Anti-riot police force against peaceful protesters in front of Phnom Penh Court trial of an independent journalist sentenced to 20 years prison in 2012. The journalist had received U.S. funded training in workshops on the concepts of the importance of a free press as independent voices in a democracy.

And the most offensive aspect of this reality is Cambodia is a country where the United States along with virtually all the rest of the planet has virtually no strategic, economic, or political tactical or strategic interest in 2012. There is no more cold war. There is no significant powerful  business interests to kowtow to. There is no war or insurgency group that needs to be quelled.

Opposition elected parliamentarian Om Radsady murdered

In sum, there is no downside to standing up for the principles of freedom and the dignity of the rights of man in Cambodia. If the U.S. cannot do so in Cambodia, where else on the planet will they? If they cannot stand on the side of human and political rights in Cambodia today, when will they ever in that cursed nation or elsewhere?

Cambodia is surrounded by economically booming competently led countries. The region has gone from 18 separate wars 20 years ago, to zero today. The cold war is over and there are no proxy armies fighting the interests of larger regional or superpowers using Cambodian territory as a hot theatre. Cambodia and it people have suffered unspeakably under a series of egregious thuggish regimes. There is no downside to standing up to supporting the principles of democracy, human rights, free speech, a free press, corruption, military abuses, and thuggish abuses of those with money, guns, and political power that deny its citizens the equal ability to access the economic, educational and human opportunities to live free and access the means to live a peaceful life free from want and fear of government abuses.

Thousands of Cambodian opposition protesters fill the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. Thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of strongman Hun Sen braved a heavy clampdown Sunday and marched through the capital to cheers from Phnom PenhÕs citizens, who threw them food and honked car horns in support. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

But Pro-Hun Sen supporters arrived jumping from their trucks to attack opposition protesters during the parade through the streets of Phnom Penh, paid by Hun Sen and protected by government security forces who stood by and protected the violent government attackers

Thousands of Cambodian opposition protesters fill the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. Thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of strongman Hun Sen braved a heavy clampdown Sunday and marched through the capital to cheers from Phnom PenhÕs citizens, who threw them food and honked car horns in support. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

In the recent past hundreds of voices of dissent have been silenced by the government enforcers of Hun Sen. Hundreds have been murdered directly for expressing opinions. Journalists have been assassinated, jailed, sued, and forced into exile. Opposition politicians have been victims of the same tactics and fate. Prominent environmentalists have been killed. Thousands of peasants have been forced off their land without compensation, scores shot, and jailed for objecting. Buddhist monks have been threatened with arrest. The main political opposition leaders have been silenced, threatened, murdered, and forced into exile. Many of them have been accused of preposterous crimes for objecting.

Thirteen arrested residents from Boeung Kak lake community evicted from their land which was given to a Chinese developer arrive at Court in June 2012 handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. They were arrested four days after the departure of Secretary of State Clinton, who gave inneffective lip service to the peaceful protestors. Photo Meng Kimlong Phnom Penh Post

Phol Srey Phors, 10, and 8 month old brother outside prison where their arrested mother and seven others held 15 November 2012 for writing SOS and placing photo of Obama on roof of their homes

Yet Hillary Clinton and Defence Minister Leon Pannetta and regional leaders swept in and out of Cambodia without even addressing the situation.

On Thursday, Hun Sen’s entirely politicized armed security forces arrested villagers for plastering the U.S. president Obama’s picture on their rooftops beside spray-painted messages of “SOS” as they faced forced government eviction from their homes without compensation. Dozens of police ordered villagers to remove the rooftop artwork and  arrested those responsible.

“We didn’t mean any harm. We just wanted Obama to help us,” said 23-year-old villager Sim Sokunthea.

Villagers were arrested Thursday for painting SOS on their roofs and attaching portraits of President Obama days before his scheduled arrival.

The next day, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived on Friday and met with former Khmer Rouge military commander and current defense minister general Tea Banh and promised increased assistance to Cambodia.

The Pentagon has quietly deployed teams of Special Operations forces to train counterterrorism and special-warfare forces despite overwhelming repeated indisputable documentation of the security forces virtually sole mission to repress, murder, intimidate, and imprison advocates of effective voices of dissent against government murder, repression of any voices of dissent, jailing and intimidation of any and all voices that dissent from the corrupt dictatorship that runs the government.

Protestors against eviction from their land

Land disputes have become a critical social and political issue in Cambodia, which Prime Minister Hun Sen has led for nearly 30 years. Powerful companies with influential connections to Hun Sen and his top loyalists take over land and evict villagers, who receive little or no compensation. The problem has sparked unrest nationwide, with deadly force repeatedly used by security forces to evict villagers.

And now, on the eve of Obama’s visit, more than 10,000 security forces have been assigned to keep order during the summit as part of Hun Sen’s determined effort to show Cambodia’s best face to the outside world.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Pannetta greeted by Hun Sen’s son at arrival in Phnom Penh on Friday, four days ahead of President Obama. Hun Manet was sponsored and paid for by the U.S. to attend West Point military academy and further studies at New York University. Hun Sen’s other two sons have also been given special U.S. funded training in a bid to improve relations with what is believed will be an attempt at a hereditary dictatorship similar to North Korea

Villagers were arrested thursday for painting SOS on their roofs and attaching portraits of President Obama days before his scheduled arrival.

And now once again, Cambodia is likely to fall victim to being used as a playground by outside powers vying over influence in regions outside their own borders, in a strategy that should have been soundly discredited as ineffective and counterproductive by post world war two modern history. The excuse this time to prolong the suffering of Cambodians to a fate none of the decision makers would accept for a moment to befall their own countries, is the growing competition for influence in Asia between the United States and China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen agree to strengthen strategic cooperation and partnership between their two countries in March 2012

An October 31 letter by a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called on Obama to confront  the long list of thuggish abuses of Prime Minister Hun Sen, including demanding politically trumped up legal convictions that forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy into exile be dismissed before the next set of what every honest observer has agreed has been a series of sham elections since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody, violent military putsch in 1997 that overthrew and rendered irrelevant the $3 billion dollar international elections held in 1993.

But Washington is as afraid of the ten cent dictator in Phnom Penh as Cambodia’s own citizens, fearing relations between Phnom Penh and Washington would suffer if they pressed for rudimentary democratic policies because Hun Sen would hand over political favour to China, resulting in a rise in China’s influence over the Hun Sen regime.

Cambodian Police beat, arrest women protesting eviction from their homes after corrupt land concessions given to Chinese companies brokered by senior Cambodian government officials

The argument is should human rights take precedence as a political priority in Cambodia to the detriment of other issues.  The answer is: what other issues?  Cambodia has long been for sale to the highest corrupt bidder precisely because of the absence of the basic tenets of democracy, and China now controls an extraordinary bulk of the economic benefits. A level playing field, free from corruption, with a functioning independent judiciary, and opposition political voices who didn’t fear death for engaging in debate on issues of national interest would be the fruits of defending and promoting and, indeed, demanding, democracy in exchange for the hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars now sent to line the pockets of corrupt organized crime figures who pose under the guise of and take refuge in the privileges of a recognized nation state.

Free Trade Union President Chea Mony places incense by photograph of his brother, slain labour rights leader Chea Vichea in Jan. 2012. Photo Phnom Penh Post

People light candles at site of killing of anti-logging activist Chut Wutty in Koh Kong province on May 11, 2012. Photograph Reuters

Australian academic Carlyle Thayer argues that Washington’s influence lies in its military support of  Phnom Penh. “The president should raise his [human rights] concerns. The U.S. should see how Hun Sen responds and work out a policy,” Thayer said. “But there are other issues at stake including U.S.-Cambodia defense relations, which is about the only major conduit of U.S. influence.”

Obama’s policy of engaging Asia as a new priority may well take the submissive position of subordinating support of basic democratic values and human rights out of fear of China using economic power to dominate the competition for influence. But, as is required by U.S. law under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which forbids U.S. companies paying bribes to acquire foreign contracts, it is impossible for the U.S. to become a significant economic investor in Cambodia to compete wit China’s corrupt status quo, or any other country with a similar official code of government conduct.

And such thinking ignores the massive popular resentment that Chinese complicity in the corruption in the pillaging of Cambodian private property, resources, and economy has engendered.

Cambodian police beat Khmer monk in 2007

In this case doing the right thing also happens to make good strategic political policy.

One might look to Burma as providing some degree of guidance. Washington’s hardline policy isolating Burma has forced the Rangoon authorities to, with important qualifications, cave to demands for allowing important levels of democratic freedoms, in contrast to U.S. policy towards Cambodia which has been to give a wink and a nod to egregious abuses as a tactic to attain closer relations and influence. The result certainly will be a decrease in Chinese influence in Burma, after decades of Beijing giving carte blanche to Rangoon in exchange for economic access to resources.

The reforms in Burma, however limited and tenuous, will certainly increase Washington’s influence there and will force a lone spotlight on Hun Sen as the last unacceptable thug among Asean countries, without a peer as the most repressive leader in Asia outside of North Korea.

Protestors against eviction from their land

Given Hun Sen’s rejection of constructive relations with any foreign powers, either regional or global, in the short term he is likely to throw what is akin to a childlike tantrum. But the fact is the lifeline of his government is economic assistance—free money—from bilateral and multilateral institutions who fund virtually all services normally the obligation of a government and compassion fatigue from the donor community is long overdue. What has given Hun Sen the most effective reassurance in recent decades is that his reputation has remained acceptably intact internationally regardless of his conduct. If that is compromised, there is little doubt the Cambodian government will have to adjust to the realities of what would be an entirely legitimate new set of conditions to prop up the collapsed dependency state of which is Cambodia today.

The record of murder, violence, intimidation, imprisonment, and abuse of government institutions to enforce the personal interests of the small cabal in power is overwhelming in recent years.

Scores of opposition supporters were killed during the UN administered election process between 1991 and 1993; More than a dozen journalists have been assassinated since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody coup in 1997; That coup saw more than 100 opposition supporters tortured, humiliated and summarily executed, many with their eyes gouged out, their tongues ripped from their mouths with plyers, and their penises cut off and stuffed in their mouths while alive. These included Deputy Interior Minister Ho Sok who was acknowledged by Hun Sen to have been executed in the Ministry of Interior compound; The 1999 acid attack on a 16-year-old Tat Marina by the wife of Svay Sitha, a senior government aide of Hun Sen official;

Victim of acid attack violence who survived-2008

The 2003 execution of Om Radsady, a popular elected opposition member of parliament in a Phnom Penh restaurant;

Opposition elected parliamentarian Om Radsady murdered

The 2004 killing of popular labor leader Chea Vichea;

Free Trade Union President Chea Mony places incense by photograph of his brother, slain labour rights leader Chea Vichea in Jan. 2012. Photo Phnom Penh Post

“tell them I want to kill them”–head of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit responding to evidence that implicated him in a bomb attack against a peaceful protest led by opposition politician Sam Rainsy that killed and wounded scores

The 2008 killing of investigative journalist Khim Sambo and his son while the two exercised in a public park;

Assassinated journalist Khim Sambo funeral ceremony 2006

and the 2012 killing of environmental activist Chut Wutty by government security forces;

Chut Wutty assassinated in 2012 by Cambodian military in the employ of corrupt government illegal logging companies. He was a fearless, uncompromising opponent of corruption. When other forms of intimidation prove ineffective under the current Cambodian Hun Sen government, murder is the inevitable option to silence those who insist on using peaceful dissent to express political opinion. Assassination has been used without hesitation hundreds of times by Hun Sen and his cabal in power to ensure supine loyalty more akin to a mafia syndicate than leaders of a legitimate nation state,

The arrest and jailing for 20 years of Mom Sonando and other activists on October 1, 2012 on trumped up charges of participating in a purported “secession” movement, while three local activists were sentenced to terms of 15 to 30 years and three others to terms of up to 5 years. Sonando, 71, a critic of Hun Sen, had been arrested twice before for political activities and owned Beehive Radio, a politically independent radio station in Cambodia. His arrest came two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s departure from the country after attending the Regional Forum of ASEAN;

Villagers pray for release of Mam Sonando at his trial where he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2012. Mam Sonando ran a politically independent radio station in Phnom Penh and received training by U.S. funded organizations promoting excersizing voices of a free press in Cambodia. His conviction and harsh sentencing was universally viewed as a political message organized by Hun Sen to silence anyone attempting to raise a voice of dissent to the Prime Minister. It isn’t just loyalty or agreement that is demanded, but supine obsequiousness.

U.S. funded anti-riot police force deployed against peaceful protesters in front of Phnom Penh Court trial of independent journalist Mom Sanada sentenced to 20 years prison 2012 for what are universally agreed to be politically concocted charges of sedition

On May 24 2012 a Phnom Penh court sentenced 13 women, including one 72 years old, to two-and-a-half years in prison for protesting evictions and demanding proper resettlement for people displaced by a development project owned by a Hun Sen associate and a Chinese investor in the Boeng Kak area of Phnom Penh;

Hundreds of Cambodians evicted from their homes after land sold to Chinese company with corrupt relationship with Hun Sen protest at Boeung Kak Lake. Within days after Secretary of State Clinton visited Phnom Penh in a public relaions coup for Hun Sen when she raised the issue of the complaints of the Boeung Kak residents, more than a dozen were arrested and sentenced to prison in what was interpreted as a direct rejection of the influence and interests of the American government.

In August and September2012  courts summoned the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions a prominent labor leader, charging him with inciting strikes by garment workers in Phnom Penh;

Acid violence survivor 2008

In 1997, the main opposition leader former finance minister Sam Rainsy was the target of an assassination attempt in a well-planned attack with grenades thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and blowing limbs off street vendors. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit was implicated as responsible and numerous witnesses reported that the assassins  ran to the closed and guarded home of Hun Sen. Witnesses told investigators from the United Nations and the FBI that the bodyguards opened the line to allow the assailants to pass into the compound. The bodyguards then stopped at gunpoint crowd members who were pursuing the grenade-throwers and threatened to shoot those who did not retreat.  Rainsy escaped with a minor leg injury.The FBI quickly investigated the attack under a US law providing the FBI jurisdiction whenever a US citizen is injured by terrorism. Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the attack and had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is rushed from the scene moments after grenade attack U.S. FBI determined was carried out by Hun Sen

The FBI’s lead investigator interviewed soldiers and officers up the chain of command and concluded that only Hun Sen could have ordered the bodyguard unit to be deployed at the park. He has said he had enough evidence to file criminal charges. Yet in May 1997 the US ambassador ordered him out of the country.

Carnage scene after the grenade attack on opposition politician Sam Rainsy March 1997 carried out by Hun Sen’s orders.

A 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness says: “The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 [the official name of the bodyguard unit] unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods.

A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit.” Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted and is now a lieutenant general and deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The commander of Brigade 70 at the time, Huy Piseth, who admitted to the FBI that he ordered the deployment of Brigade 70 forces to the scene that day, went on to become undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Defense. “Handing out promotions to people implicated in massacring peaceful demonstrators shows cruel disregard for the victims,” Said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch. “The message sent is that human rights abusers, no matter how egregious their acts, will not only go free, but will be rewarded.”

Cambodian Police beat, arrest women protesting eviction from their homes after corrupt land concessions given to Chinese companies brokered by senior Cambodian government officials

In 2012, the Pentagon is expanding counterterrorism assistance to Cambodia, training a counterterrorism battalion even though the nation has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade.

The only terrorist force of consequence in Cambodia today is the armed security forces of the current government. The U.S. is training the armed forces of Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen, who uses his military not against any non-existent external threat but almost solely to execute and intimidate political opponents.

Cambodia has no ordinary history of egregious dictators in charge of policies that violate virtually every major tenet of basic human rights and democratic institutions more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, after killing 1.7 million—or about 20% of the population.

Fleeing Phnom Penh residents carry their belongings along Pochentong airport Phnom Penh 1997 Hun Sen coup

But U.S. government policy has not been to stand up for the poster nation of modern inhumane government policy. Rather, it has been to coddle and be successfully intimidated by the successive leaders who were trained, schooled and members of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

The current dictator, Hun Sen, an ex Khmer Rouge military officer who broke from the notorious group not because he objected to mass murder as a state policy, but rather that he was next on the list of targets, lost Cambodia’s only modern free election organized by a $3 billion dollar U.N. conducted 1993 elections.

Former Khmer Rouge military commander Chea Sim (L) shares a laugh with former Khmer Rouge military commander Hun Sen. Both now lead the current Cambodian government

Four years later he seized control in a bloody, vicious coup detat that left hundreds of opposition figures horribly tortured, thousands forced to flee the country, and every last vestige of minimal modicum of opposition politics silenced through, intimidation, murder, and imprisonment by his government.

The Pentagon and the State Department have responded to Cambodia, along with Burma, the last running sore of incompetence and corruption and thuggery in Asia, by not just downplaying and coddling the dictatorship, but financing and encouraging it to hardening its Stalinist organization of power.

For instance the Pentagon has embraced and financed a hereditary dictatorship promising to institutionalize the Hun Sen regime. Hun Sen now stands as the longest serving dictator in the world, holding power since 1979. All three of Hun Sen’s sons have been trained financed and encouraged by the U.S government to inherit power in Cambodia. All three hold influential posts in the Cambodian government and military.

Hun Sen and heir apparent Hun Manet, trained and paid for to study at West Point

Hun Manet, the eldest son, was sponsored by the U.S embassy and paid to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in economics from New York University, also paid for by U.S funds. A deputy commander and major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Hun Manet is widely seen as the heir apparent to his father.

The U.S. military also paid for the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, 29, to earn a master’s degree in strategic studies at the National Defense University in Washington in 2011.

And the U.S. military organized Hun Sen’s middle son, Hun Manith, a senior intelligence official, to be trained in counterterrorism in Germany, according to American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

In 2008, the U.S. government created a special Cambodian anti-terrorism military unit ostensibly to combat al-Qaeda sympathizers. In 2003, a leader of an Indonesian al-Qaeda affiliate was hiding in Cambodia and other members of the group were charged with plotting to bomb the U.S. and British embassies in Phnom Penh.

But such sanctuaries are a direct result of widespread institutional official corruption of the Cambodian government which is sanctuary to more wanted criminals on Interpol lists than any other country in the world, notably European pedophiles, petty criminals, Russian and Asian organized criminal syndicates, and representatives of armed insurgencies purchasing weapons from dozens of groups from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to the middle east, to Africa. It is precisely because of Cambodian government policy that exchanges sanctuary for such groups for corrupt payoffs to operate with impunity and protection of the Hun Sen government that they migrate to Cambodia. TO fund and strengthen these same forces is a misguided and counterproductive strategy of what on the surface is a clueless U.S policy.

Justice Cambodian government style

In the State department’s annual report on terrorist activity in  Cambodia in 2011, it listed no problems in the country. But the U.S. counterterrorism training has been expanded. U.S. Ambassador William E. Todd singled out Hun Manet for his leadership and praised the performance of his troops this year saying: “Your commitment to training, your dedication to perfection, and your willingness to sacrifice for your country clearly demonstrates this unit’s unspoken pledge to be the best counter-terrorism force in Southeast Asia,” according to the U.S. Embassy’s Web site.

Although terrorism is not on the list of Cambodia’s problems, the Pentagon’s reasons to continue  training is a means of increasing access and influence, but none of either has been focused on defending or promoting or strengthening democratic institutions. By financing and training and encouraging not just Hun Sen’s cabal of loyalists, but his immediate family directly benefits the Cambodian prime minister, ensuring that with his own in charge Hun Sen can rely on the loyalty of the armed security services to any dissent or challenge to his rule. The U.S. military counter terrorism training is run by a U.S. Special Forces group based at the U.S. Embassy.

Police beat Cambodian peaceful protestors 2012

“We support Cambodia in its development as a responsible regional partner,” said Lt. Col. Brad Doboszenski, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific and “is guided by U.S. policy objectives, not personal relationships.”

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Pannetta greeted by Hun Sen’s son at arrival in Phnom Penh four days ahead of President Obama

Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Catherine Wilkinson said “We have to make sure we’re not working with people who commit gross human rights violations, but we can’t turn our backs and not provide training,” which “helps to prevent these problems from reemerging.”

Independent monitors of Cambodia’s political development take exception to such analysis. ““There’s almost this childlike faith that if these people are exposed to the U.S. military, it will invariably lead to a more professional military,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “There was almost no acknowledgment about how the U.S. could be helping to consolidate the power of highly abusive actors.”

Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs: No One Disputes that. Obama Should Take a Stand for the Human and Political Rights of Cambodians

14 Nov

Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs: No One Disputes that. Obama Should Take a Stand for the Human and Political Rights of Cambodians

On the eve of the first visit ever by a U.S. president to Cambodia, this article on the American approach to the current Cambodian government is seamlessly applicable. Just change references from narcotics to human and political rights. Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs. That is not an issue of dispute. The U.S. could make a real difference in the lives of Cambodians if they simply tried. After all, Cambodia is no longer a country of significant political, economic, or geo political strategic or tactical import. If the U.S. president cannot stand up for the issue of human rights in Cambodia, where else on the planet will he? The Obama administration should do the right thing and side with those who have suffered under the horrific jackboot of oppression of the series of governments in its modern history. What possible reason is there for Obama not to simply say: “Respect the rights and lives of dignity of your people or we will object loudly. And we will not fund your system that murders and oppresses your citizens”?


Cambodia represents a case study of what can happen when U.S. drug policy and U.S. foreign policy interests collide


March 2002

By Nate Thayer

(This article details the way the U.S. war on drugs is actually played out in the real world, the hypocrisy between the rhetoric to hunt down and the reality of giving political protection to the powerful narcotics kingpins. U.S. policy is rarely implemented when the high level drug dealers have political protection from governments the U.S. has other wise good relations with. While billions are spent going after the small fish, making the U.S. have the highest percentage of people in prison than any other nation in the world–those in charge of narcotics trafficking are not just untouchable, but protected, and, too often,  given the red-carpet treatment by the American government)

On April 8, 1997, Theng Bunma, Cambodia’s most powerful tycoon, upset at “rude” treatment from airline personnel, marched out onto the tarmac of Cambodia’s Poechentong International Airport, pulled out a Russian K-59 automatic pistol and shot out the tires of the Royal Air Cambodge Boeing 737-400 he had just arrived in from Hong Kong.

Bunma complained that the national airline had lost his luggage and refused to adequately reimburse him: “So I said, ‘If you do not pay me that, I will shoot your airplane—for compensation.’” He added: “If they were my employees, I would have shot them in the head.”

Yet Theng Bunma is no bombastic, small-time thug: He is arguably the most powerful man in Cambodia. “In Khmer we say, ‘He makes the rain. He makes the thunder,” said a senior Cambodian official. “Everybody knows that Theng Bunma can do what he wants.”

Theng Bunma intimidates every Cambodian, from noodle vendors to the Prime Minister. As well as, the record shows, the government of the United States.

“We have reliable reporting that he (Theng Bunma) is closely and heavily involved in drug trafficking in Cambodia,” a state department spokesman, Nicholas burns, said in July 1997.

But that public admission by the United States government was years in coming, and came only after an overwhelming and embarrassing mountain of public evidence emerged through the press, forcing Washington to acknowledge the reality it had long tried to suppress: Cambodia has become a classic narco-state.

Theng Bunma is a poster child for the weakness of America’s so-called war on drugs in narco-states like Cambodia. The record shows that the United States government has gone through years of acrobatics to turn a blind eye to Theng Bunma and his benefactors in the Cambodian government.

The U.S. dilemma is simple: successive administrations have been reluctant to implement strict “zero tolerance” policy directives against governments that protect, abet, and benefit from narcotics traffickers. U.S. law requires that they “decertify” these nations as being cooperative in fighting the drug trade, thus cutting off bilateral aid and, potentially, multilateral aid to these governments. But decertification might, officials argue, derail concomitant attempts to develop otherwise good relations with governments they are trying to nurture as “emerging democracies.” So, in Cambodia, the United States has avoided the mandate on the war on drugs.

It’s not that the United States isn’t aware who Bunma is. “Theng Bunma is a well known figure widely reported to be involved in drug trafficking,” a State Department official said in December 2001. But he also noted that Cambodian “cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration remains excellent” and said the U.S. government was pleased with “the reorganization of anti-narcotics coordination” within the Cambodian government.

“Cambodia has taken a number of positive steps,” the official said, citing $460,000 that the U.S. government gave in 2001 to the United Nations Drug Control Program to help Cambodian authorities combat drug trafficking.

Still, the U.S. reluctance to recognize the impunity with which Bunma conducts his international criminal enterprises provides a colorful case study of how organized crime, narcotics trafficking and political corruption, when left unchallenged, undermine fundamental tenets of democracy.

By 1997, Bunma represented the height of political and economic legitimacy in Cambodia. He had twice been elected president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. His Cambodian diplomatic passport described him as “economic advisor” to the head of the ruling Cambodian People’s party. And because of his beneficence to royal charities, he held the high honorific title of “Okna,” bestowed upon him by King Sihanouk.

He is also the country’s single biggest taxpayer and landholder and owns its biggest newspaper. His Thai Boon Roong holding company owns banks, airlines, tobacco concessions, logging concessions, shipping fleets, hotels, casinos, and credit card concessions—among many other legitimate businesses.

With offices in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, his company is the single biggest corporate entity in Cambodia. Financial records put his net worth in the billions of dollars.

But that is not the source of Theng Bunma’s power. He is a narcotics trafficker. He runs a multi-billion dollar international criminal syndicate that lavishes money and gifts on Cambodia’s leaders. In turn, he is given political protection by the Cambodian government to do just about anything he wants.

Booming Business

Before the 1990’s, Cambodia was not involved in any significant narcotics activity. It was neither a producing country nor a transshipment route. But in 1991, the DEA began noticing—though not yet intercepting—shipments that left Cambodia and headed into a maze of fishing boats. The first drug shipment abroad identified as having originated in Cambodia, according to international investigators, was in 1993.

“In the last two years, we have seen a dramatic increase in Cambodia being used as a heroin smuggling point,” a senior Bangkok-based DEA official said in 1993. “Our intelligence is now picking up four to six shipments a year” of high grade refined heroin with “a minimum of 300 kilograms. The largest we have detected so far is 800 kilos.” (An interception of 300 kilos—660 pounds—of heroin would rank in the top ten drug busts from the Golden Triangle.)

Regarding Cambodian government anti-drug efforts, the DEA official scoffed:” The only thing hampering them is the weather.”

The formula is simple: Criminal syndicates involved in narcotics trafficking seek out week governments that, through the exchange of corruption money for political protection, allow them to conduct their criminal activities. Cambodia in the early 1990’s was just such a case, and organized crime descended to set up shop.

Bunma came to prominence in Cambodia in the late 1980’s. Though born in Cambodia, he carried fake passports and identity cards that identified him as a citizen of Thailand. And he had plenty of money for Cambodia’s political leadership, including both Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, political enemies who shared power in an uneasy alliance as the result of United Nations-sponsored democratic elections held in 1993.

In February 1994, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Charles Twining invited Finance Minister Sam Rainsy and another senior government official to a private luncheon at his residence. In his living room, Twining turned up the music and lowered his voice. According to Rainsy, Twining offered this warning:”Please tell Ranariddh not to get involved with Theng Bunma because we Americans have evidence that Theng Bunma is involved in drug trafficking.”

Twining, when asked to confirm the conversation, said through an embassy spokesman: “We don’t comment about confidential conversations with a host government.”

Airplanes and Limousines

The United States had reason to worry about penetration of the highest levels of the Cambodian government. Bunma’s many gifts to officials were legendary. In 1993, he paid $1.8 million for Ranariddh’s personal King Air-200 plane and gave Hun Sen the Mercedes limousines that ferried him to official functions. When the government was low on funds in 1994, Bunma underwrote the state budget with several million dollars interest-free “loans.” He paid the entire salary of the Cambodian army during their 1994 dry-season offensive against the Khmer Rouge.

According to one American narcotics official, Cambodia in 1994 was a place where criminal syndicates were “using government planes, helicopters, military trucks, navy boats and soldiers to transport heroin.”

It was also in February 1994—the same month that Twining warned the Cambodian government o distance themselves from Bunma—that the U.S. embassy did the opposite: Bunma was issued a U.S. visa so he could attend the Congressional Prayer Breakfast, with president Clinton the keynote speaker.

Bunma was accompanied by Interior Minister Sin Song, a former Khmer Rouge officer who eight months earlier has led a coup attempt. The two Cambodians were given the red-carpet treatment in Washington. They asked for and were granted a meeting with U.S. officials.

Attending the meeting at the Pentagon, were officials from the CIA, the State Department, the Department of Defense and other agencies. Sin Song, to the shock of the Americans, asked formally for U.S. support for another coup d’état. Bunma identified himself as the “financier” of the effort, according to three officials at the meeting.

In July 1994, a coup was indeed launched, but it too failed.  Sin Song was arrested. So were 33 Thai officials, connected to powerful figures within Thai military circles, who had flown in from Bangkok. Their airline tickets on Cambodian International Airlines were all booked under the credit card of Bunma’s Thai Boon Roong holding company, according to the head of the airline. While dozens were jailed, no action was taken against Bunma.

In August 1994, the opposition newspaper Voice of Khmer Youth published a front-page profile of Bunma, accusing him, among other things, of having been arrested for drug smuggling in 1972. The report said he bribed his way out of jail and fled to Thailand. Less than a week after the article appeared, men in military uniforms gunned down its editor in broad daylight on a busy Phnom Penh street. No one has ever been arrested.

A Fine Line

In March 1995, the U.S. government issued its Narcotics Control Strategy Report, in which the State Department walked a fine line regarding Bunma and Cambodia: “Involvement (in the drug trade) of some leading businessmen with access to the highest levels of government is a known concern. There are indications that some high-level businessmen who give financial support to politicians are involved in heroin smuggling.” No names were given, however.

The report, ironically, outlined the effectiveness of “public diplomacy” in the U.S. war on drugs: “It is in the drug trade’s interest to remain behind the scenes working through corrupt government officials who can maintain a façade of probity and respectability. One of the best ways of routing out drug corruption is to expose it to public scrutiny. Corruption is a threat to any nation’s security, for it allows criminal elements to undermine the legitimacy of the state from within.”

Despite these concerns, the U.S. embassy issued Bunma another visa the following month, this time to accompany the Cambodian head of state, Chea Sim, and his official delegation to Washington. Chea Sim dined with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, held talks with National Security Council officials and met—at the personal request of Ambassador. Twining—Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among others.

The entire Cambodian government delegation’s rooms at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington during this visit were reserved for and paid in the name of Theng Bunma, according to the hotel.

Just prior to the U.S. visit, the State Department formally, but secretly, put Bunma on the visa ban list, according to department documents, but decided to issue a de facto waiver so that Bunma, described in his diplomatic passport as an “economic advisor,” could accompany Chea Sim. “We did not want to create problems at the start of what was an important bilateral visit,” said one embassy official.

Grounds for Exclusion

Placing Bunma on the visa blacklist, according to the U.S. government document, was based on State Department provision P2C, which cites section 212 of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act: “ Controlled substance traffickers…who the consular or immigration officer knows or has reason to believe (are) or (have) been illicit traffickers…(are) excludable.” Bunma was also banned from entering the United States under another State Department provision (code “00”) covering other unspecified “derogatory information.”

“According to our records he (Bunma) does not hold a U.S. visa,” a State Department official said in December. “No determination regarding his eligibility to enter the U.S. can be made prior to his application, but we would obviously take all relevant facts into account.”

In June 1995, after Bunma and Chea Sim had left the United States, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns reiterated longstanding official U.S. policy toward nations who fail to move against drug traffickers: “Governments that reward corruption and that allow trafficker influence to penetrate the highest levels of authority will have difficult relations with the United States.” But he was referring to events in Columbia, not Cambodia, and U.S. officials continued to avoid confronting the Cambodian authorities.

In November 1995, the Far Eastern Economic Review published a cover package entitled “Cambodia: Asia’s New Narco-State?” It detailed Bunma’s involvement in drug trafficking and criminal syndicates. A few days later, Hun Sen, a primary beneficiary of Bunma’s largesse, threatened that “a million demonstrators” might take to the streets to protest foreign interference in Cambodian affairs.

“Diplomats should stay indoors,” he warned. “I cannot guarantee their safety.” The United States sent a special envoy, Kent Wiederman, to try to calm the situation. Wiederman, then deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, emerged from a private meeting with Hun Sen commending his “commitment to human rights and democracy.” The French ambassador, who had just ordered the destruction of sensitive documents because of Hun Sen’s threat, reacted to Wiederman’s praising of Hun Sen by commenting: “What planet did he arrive from?”

On January 7, 1996—at the dedication of the new “Hun Sen park” on the Mekong River, paid for by Bunma—Hun Sen announced his government would “never abandon “ Bunma, “who has helped our party.” On the VIP dais were both Bunma and U.S. charge d’affaires Robert Porter.

Our Intelligence Was Clear

Several months later, a U.S. government regional drug conference was held in Bangkok, with attendees from State, the CIA, the DEA and other agencies. The Phnom Penh embassy official who supervised narcotics issues argued with representatives from other U.S. embassies and agencies who questioned why the U.S. embassy in Cambodia was refusing to acknowledge—let alone confront—Bunma as a drug trafficker.

“Our intelligence was clear and overwhelming that Bunma was a major player,” said a U.S. government official from another embassy who attended the conference. “We couldn’t understand what the Phnom Penh embassy was doing.”

The Phnom Penh embassy cited “suspicions but no proof.” Other American officials involved in narcotics policy were outraged.

On March 1, 1997, in its required annual report to Congress on narcotics, the State Department noted that “Cambodia made significant efforts towards taking control of the drug trafficking and transit problems” in 1996.

But according to Cambodian and Interpol records, the seizure by foreign law-enforcement authorities of drugs originating in Cambodia increased by more than 1,000 percent in 1996 over 1995.

The State Department report added that promises by the Cambodian government to crack down on officials involved in narcotic trafficking or corruption: have thus far yielded no concrete indictments or results.”

Yet they again officially “waived” Cambodia from being decertified as a nation that failed to move against drug trafficking.

The FBI Investigates

Later that month, a terrorist grenade attack targeting Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, killed 19 and wounded more than 120 on a bright Sunday morning in a peaceful gathering outside the parliament building. Rainsy was long a vocal critic of Bunma and Hun Sen, publicly linking them to the narcotics trade.

Because an American citizen, and employee of the congressionally-funded International republican Institute, was wounded in the attack, the FBI sent a team to Cambodia to assist the investigation.

A state Department spokesman told me on April 14, 1997, that with regard to drug money supporting the Cambodian government, “we are actively looking into reports that corrupt elements of the military and government may be facilitating drug trafficking, but we are not in a position to comment on those reports.”

By May, the FBI’s preliminary findings had concluded that the terrorists were linked not only to Bunma but to Hun Sen himself. They informed U.S. ambassador Kenneth Quinn that their investigation pointed to some of the prime minister’s top aides, including the head of his personal bodyguards.

Further, the FBI told Quinn, the grenade throwers appeared to be part of a paramilitary unit of assassins who were on the payroll of both the government and Bunma and operated out of one of Bunma’s hotels.

The next step, the FBI said, was to interview Hun Sen and give him a polygraph test. Quinn was not pleased at the potential diplomatic ramifications. Within days, he ordered the FBI team to leave Cambodia, citing “threats” to their safety from the Khmer Rouge. The source of the threats? Hun Sen.

“There is no question our investigation was halted by the highest levels because it was leading to Hun Sen,” said one American law enforcement official directly involved.

Quinn and others in the U.S. government privately argued that Cambodia’s stability was already teetering on the brink of civil war. To continue the FBI investigation to its logical conclusion would push the country over the edge, they contended. (Quinn did not respond to my request for comment).

The departure of the FBI team from Phnom Penh, didn’t, of course, help calm things down. It further bolstered those in the Cambodian government who felt, correctly, that they were capable of intimidating the United States and could act with impunity without harmful diplomatic consequences.

Between the growing fractious deterioration within the Cambodian coalition government, the rising international scrutiny focused directly on Hun Sen from the high-profile grenade attack on Sam Rainsy, and the very public international calls for increased pressure to stem the influence of organized-crime syndicates and drug traffickers over the corrupt Cambodian government, the pressure mounted—and the government imploded.

A bloody coup d’état occurred in early July 1997. The 2.8 billion dollar U.N peacekeeping effort, which began with the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and culminated in the 1993 elections, was now formally a failure. Civil war had returned. The winners of the election—Ranariddh and his supporters—were ousted from power and in exile; the losers—backers of Hun Sen—had full control. The Khmer Rouge, now allied with the ousted government leaders, was fighting from the jungle. And parliament, the press, opposition politics, a coalition government, and other tenets of the “emerging fragile democracy” had collapsed.

Perhaps no one was happier than Theng Bunma. In an interview shortly after the coup, he boasted of having given millions of dollars in cash and gold to Hun Sen to finance it. “For the clash of 6 July 1997, I called Mr. Hun Sen and I talked to him. I gave him one million dollars to do whatever the control the situation,” said Bunma. “He asked me whether I had the money in Cambodia….I said I would send one hundred kilograms of gold in a plane to Cambodia.”

“I say what Hun Sen did was correct,” Bunma said. “Why? One reason. Take the example of my hotel.” Hun Sen “put three tanks and soldiers around to protect it.”

No Formal Linkage

A few days after this interview appeared in the Washington Post, the U.S. government publicly stated, for the first time, that Theng Bunma was a drug trafficker. But State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns hastened to add that the United States “does not have evidence that links Hun Sen himself, personally, to these accusations of drug trafficking.”

“We think the Cambodian government can do a lot more to purge itself of obvious corruption in the government, of obvious linkages between…members of the government and narco-traffickers,” Burns said.

Burns careful separation of Bunma from Hun Sen was no coincidence. It allowed the State Department to avoid the conclusion that the Cambodian government itself was involved in drug trafficking. Such a conclusion would require the United States to decertify Cambodia, with all its implications—including cutting off bilateral aid and voting against loans from the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other multilateral aid. That would have been the death knell for a government that derived almost half its budget in 1996 from such sources.

It was the same reason the U.S. government refused to label the “events” of July a coup d’état. That also would require a cessation of aid to Hun Sen’s government.

In June 1998, the Thais issued an arrest warrant for Bunma, who was charged with fraud for allegedly providing false information to obtain a Thai identity card and passport under two different names. In 1999, criminal charges were brought against Bunma in Hong Kong for falsifying immigration documents. Later the prosecution dropped all charges after the Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Nam Hong, presented a diplomatic note citing Bunma’s “top honors and ranks” to the Hong Kong court. “Mr. Theng Bunma has claimed diplomatic immunity through his lawyers. The Royal Government of Cambodia has claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf,” the court said, “The administration has carefully considered the claims and has concluded that Mr. Theng is entitled to immunity from criminal jurisdiction. In those circumstances, the prosecution has decided to drop the charges,” said the Hong Kong government spokesman

And while the Thai arrest warrants remain open, Bunma’s connections in powerful circles in Thailand have prevented any movement to touch him.

On June 18, 2000, Bunma’s daughter was married to a Thai army officer in a lavish ceremony in Phnom Penh. It was hardly a quiet affair.

The Thai military’s Supreme Commander, Gen. Mongol Ampornpisit, chartered a military plane from Bangkok full of top army officers. Hun Sen’s wife was guest of honor and a witness to the engagement ceremony. Cambodia’s defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh, served as the bride-to-be’s sponsor. The Interior Minister, Sar Kheng, also attended. The Bangkok Post reported that “diamond jewelry and stacks of cash” were presented to the bride and groom.

A “Transit Route”

After the coup of 1997, under pressure from Congress, the United States suspended most of its bilateral aid to Cambodia. According to the State Department’s Narcotics Control Strategy Report released in March 2001, “U.S.-Cambodia bilateral narcotics cooperation is hampered by restrictions on official assistance to the central government that have remained in place since the political disturbances of 1997” and “remained suspended in 2000.”

“Cambodia’s principal involvement in the international narcotics trade is as a transit route for Southeast Asian heroin to overseas markets, including…the United States,” the report says.

The report cites Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) as “playing a central role, provid(ing) more effective measures” and said the NACD had the potential “to become an effective policy and coordination tool for the government.”

The same report also noted that in 2000 the deputy police commissioner had alleged that four senior Cambodian government officials—including the former and current heads of the NACD and a deputy commander-in-chief of the Cambodian military—had accepted bribed from narcotics traffickers.

Nevertheless, a few months later, President Bush removed Cambodia from the list of “major Drug-Producing or Transit Countries.” According to the White House,” The only change in the list from the previous year is the removal of Cambodia.”

“I have removed Cambodia from the major’s list,” said President Bush in a prepared statement dated November 1, 2001. “Cambodia was added to the Majors List in 1996 as a transit country for heroin destined for the United States. In recent years, there has been no evidence of any heroin transiting Cambodia coming to the United States.”

Could it be that no one really wants to look for evidence?


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