Hun Sen

▪ 1998

      On July 5, 1997, Hun Sen, the second prime minister of Cambodia, ordered troops to attack the stronghold of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the first prime minister and the son of King Norodom Sihanouk. The attack signaled the collapse of Cambodia's four-year-old coalition government, which had been mandated by UN-organized elections after nearly two decades of civil war ended in 1993. Relations between the ministers, uneasy at best, had become increasingly bitter as Prince Ranariddh tried to forge an alliance with Khmer Rouge party members who had defected to the government during the preceding year.

      Born in 1950 or 1952 in Kompang, Cambodia, Hun Sen was educated in Phnom Penh at the Buddhist monastery Wat Tuk La'ak. In the late 1960s he joined the resistance Communist Party of Kampuchea. He soon became a courier for the local communist leader and in 1970 joined the Khmer Rouge movement, rising to the position of commandant. During Pol Pot's regime, when the Khmer Rouge killed more than one million people (1975-79), Hun Sen fled to Vietnam, joining pro-Vietnamese troops against the Khmer Rouge. He returned to Cambodia after the Vietnam-backed takeover and was eventually installed as chairman of the Council of Ministers, having previously served as minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister. He led the country until the 1993 elections.

      Although Prince Ranariddh's royalist Funcinpec Party (FP) had garnered more votes than Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, Hun Sen refused to cede power, and the international community eventually agreed to the compromise partnership between the two leaders. Under a new constitution, the Cambodian people began to rebuild their country. With general elections scheduled for 1998, however, both Hun Sen and the prince jockeyed for support from smaller parties, and Hun Sen feared that the defecting Khmer Rouge leaders might distance themselves from their past and successfully realign with Prince Ranariddh. A deal signed by a Khmer Rouge faction with the FP on July 4 was said to have provoked Hun Sen's violent coup d'état on July 5.

      In the days immediately following the coup, government troops reportedly conducted door-to-door searches to locate FP members, at least 40 of whom were executed. Fighting, which had started in Phnom Penh, advanced northward through the summer and fall to other royalist holdouts, as well as to villages held by former Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighters. Thousands of Cambodians fled to Thailand to escape the violence. While Prince Ranariddh sought international support, Hun Sen told foreign governments and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to interfere in what was merely a law-enforcement issue. He and his party named a token FP official to replace the prince as first prime minister, but Hun Sen continued his tactics of domination and intimidation through the end of the year. Some believed that because of his age and unpredictability, Hun Sen had generally been underestimated by outsiders.

REBECCA RUNDALL

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▪ prime minister of Cambodia
born April 4, 1951, Kâmpóng Cham province, Cambodia

      Cambodian politician, who was prime minister of Cambodia from 1985.

      Hun Sen was educated at a Buddhist monastery, Wat Tuk La'ak, in Phnom Penh. In the late 1960s he joined the Communist Party of Kampuchea and in 1970 joined the Khmer Rouge. During the regime of Pol Pot (1975–79), during which an estimated two million Cambodians lost their lives, Hun Sen fled to Vietnam, joining troops there opposed to the Khmer Rouge. He returned to Cambodia after the Vietnamese installed a new government in 1979 and was made minister of foreign affairs. He became prime minister in 1985.

      In 1993 elections the royalist party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the son of head of state King Norodom Sihanouk, outpolled Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Hun Sen, however, refused to cede power, and, under an agreement imposed by international powers, a coalition government was formed, with the prince named first prime minister and Hun Sen second prime minister. In a violent coup in July 1997 Hun Sen deposed Prince Ranariddh, who had made overtures to remnants of the Khmer Rouge, and appointed a replacement. In March 1998 Hun Sen had the prince tried in absentia and found guilty of charges that included an attempt to overthrow the government. Prince Ranariddh was subsequently pardoned by his father, and he returned to Cambodia to take part in elections held in July 1998. This time Hun Sen outpolled the prince, but once again the two were forced to enter into a coalition government, with Prince Ranariddh made president of the National Assembly and Hun Sen becoming the sole prime minister. In the national election of 2003, the CPP once again finished first, and Hun Sen was appointed to another term as prime minister in July 2004.

      Some three decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen continued to grapple with fostering national reconciliation and prosecuting the surviving members of the Pol Pot regime for war crimes. The United Nations sought to bring the perpetrators to justice before an international tribunal, while Hun Sen insisted on relying on the Cambodian court system. Other pressing issues concerned the development of the country's economy, improvement of the infrastructure, and management of an ongoing border dispute with Thailand. In the parliamentary elections of 2008, the CPP again emerged victorious, and Hun Sen entered yet another term as Cambodia's prime minister.

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Universalium. 2010.

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