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Cambodian strongman lashes out at Asian trade group

Hun Sen July 14, 1997
Web posted at: 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia's Second Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out Monday at the Asian trade organization that condemned his bloody government takeover, and he threatened to reconsider Cambodia's bid to join the seven-nation body.

Hun Sen said he was afraid of joining the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) because of what he described as the organization's interference in Cambodia's internal affairs.

Hun Sen said Cambodia might now reconsider its application for ASEAN membership: "We consider if we go to ASEAN or if we stop. I want to stop if ASEAN continues to interfere in our internal affairs".

ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has put Cambodia's application on hold after Hun Sen ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh on July 6 after two days of fighting in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia had been due to join ASEAN this month, along with Laos and Burma. ASEAN said last week that it still recognized Ranariddh as first prime minister.

Hun Sen, who mixed with monks at a pagoda north of the capital Phnom Penh on Monday, also warned big powers not to use aid as a weapon to pressure him.

"You cannot come and say 'Excellency, you must to this or do that because my country has helped you a lot,'" Hun Sen said. He maintained that "business is different from aid" and that he would not be threatened.

Last week, the United States suspended aid to Cambodia for 30 days in response to Ranariddh's overthrow. Germany also suspended aid indefinitely and Australia said it was considering whether to put aid on hold. Overseas aid is said to account for about half of Cambodia's annual budget.

The country's monarch, King Sihanouk, said on Monday that he was doubtful about mediation efforts by ASEAN, as well as France, the United States and Japan. Hun Sen had already rejected an earlier offer to hold reconciliation talks.

However, the king, who is in the Chinese capital Beijing for medical treatment, said he was willing to meet envoys from ASEAN and the three other countries later in Beijing this week in a renewed effort to halt the crisis in Cambodia.

On Monday, Hun Sen stepped up his rhetoric against Ranariddh, calling him a terrorist and claiming that Ranariddh had received money from Taiwan to buy arms and train alleged terrorists in Cambodia. Taiwan immediately rejected the accusations.

At the time of the coup earlier this month, Ranariddh was believed to be close to a peace accord with the last hard-liners from the disintegrating Khmer Rouge guerrilla army, which ruled Cambodia under its notorious leader Pol Pot in a reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

During Monday's statement, Hun Sen claimed to be in possession of two documents which allegedly implicated Ranariddh in a plot with the Khmer Rouge to increase the prince's military strength in and around Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen's troops have been fighting forces loyal to Ranariddh since the ouster. And on Sunday, troops loyal to Hun Sen used artillery fire as Ranariddh's forces reportedly withdrew into northwestern parts of the country.

Ranariddh traveled to France the day before the coup and has been lobbying overseas against Hun Sen.

Reporter John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report

 
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