Speech at the Opening of the Asia Youth Forum 2013 Under the Theme: “Youths and Peace: Strengthening Peace, Stability and Development through Education”

Dato Seri Dr. Mohamad Khir Toyo, President of the Asia Youth Council,
Mr. Hun Many, President of the Union of Youth Federation of Cambodia,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and honour to be here to open the Asia Youth Forum 2013, under the theme of “Youths and Peace: Strengthening Peace, Stability and Development through Education”, jointly organized by the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) and Asia Youth Council (AYC) in Phnom Penh. I would also like to congratulate the UYFC on hosting this international forum.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to commend the management board of UYFC for exerting effort to promote the prestige of this Union on the international stage. This also provides rare opportunity for Cambodian youths to participate in strengthening peace, stability and development in the region and the world, as well as share experiences and create regional network that are the basis for mutual understandings, solidarity and cooperation among peoples in the region.

Today’s forum is held in a country which has gone through decades of chronic civil war, genocide and internal conflicts caused by influence of external cold war ideology to Cambodia’s society. Before achieving peace, national unification and harmony experienced today, this poor land and people have gone through enormous losses, sufferings and tragedies. Despite Cambodia has achieved full peace and national unification under the roof of one Constitution, one King, and one Royal Government, the people have yet to overcome and leave behind both physical and non-physical sufferings and scars left by the recent chronic war and tragedies. Thus, peace building as well as national unification and consolidation in Cambodia have been achieved at a very high price. In this connection, I highly value the importance of the theme of this Forum because it clearly reflects the experiences of some regional countries, e.g. Cambodia, and is very relevant to the current trend of the world that now becomes a subject of attention for youths.

Moreover, I am really proud of Asian youths who are dynamically working together for the cause of peace, development and prosperity in each country, the region and the world. This is the real spirit of cooperation and partnership that must take root among youths, the core force of development in the future.

In the above spirit, as an ex-youth who spent my whole youth life fighting for the cause of the people and the country, as a veteran who had gone through countless battlefields, as an ordinary individual who had gone through tragedies and sufferings during the Pol Pol Genocide Regime with other people and stood up to liberate the country from this cruel regime, and being tasked to seek peace for the people and the country as well as to rebuild the country from ruins and massacre, I would like to take this rare opportunity to share with you some of my experiences.

According to written history, Cambodia was a powerful and prosperous empire during the early time of the previous millennium. People at that time used the then modern technologies in architecture, agriculture, land management and other constructions. However, due to civil wars and crises caused by internal conflicts since the 14th century as well as the conflict of superpower’s ideologies over the past decades, Cambodia felt into darkness. As I have mentioned above, the country and people of Cambodia have gone through all kinds of bitter experiments and countless sacrifices to regain peace and prosperity back to this poor country. Fortunately, thanks to the firm determination of the people and leaders, with advice and assistance from our friend countries, we have managed to restore peace, democracy, human rights and human dignity to the country which now can look forward to a prosperous future.

To help you better understand this, I would like to dig into some historical events that lead to the current national unification.

Everyone knows that Cambodia has spent a very long time and sacrificed many lives to fight for peace. However, during nearly four decades of war caused by external influences as well as genocide and internal conflicts, Cambodian people not only lost their opportunities for socio-economic progress, but also suffered from enormous loss of lives and properties. As I have mentioned earlier, I spent my whole youth life fighting to liberate the country and the people. After successfully toppling the Pol Pot Regime, at the age of over 20 years old, I was tasked to lead the reconstruction of the country from ruins left by the war while the cold war still continued and the country was faced with external embargoes and internal war. Shouldering this heavy burden and steep challenge, at the age of over 30 years old, I started to clearly understand that “war was neither the sole nor the best means to achieve peace”. “There is no victory in wars, only losses”. This understanding drives me and other senior leaders of the Cambodia’s People Party to seek political solution to the problem in Cambodia.

Therefore, seeking solutions to the conflict in Cambodia started while the cold war, arms race and ideological confrontation were heating, and Asia was divided into two blocks. In the country, Cambodia was faced with the risk of the return of the then UN-backed Pol Pot regime and unfair embargoes from some countries that not only supported the Pol Pot genocide regime, but also punished those who survived the massacre.

This is not a journey that consists of both easy and difficult parts, but simply a very dangerous journey for our victimised and weak people. Based on the philosophy of “war cannot be used to terminate war”, I was then tasked by the Cambodia’s People Party to negotiate based on two key strategies, first: to achieve political solution with the assurance of preventing the return of the Pol Pot genocide regime, and second: to maintain all social achievements realized after the collapse of the Pol Pot regime in 1979.

Our reunification effort led to the historic meeting between Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Hun Sen on 2nd December 1987 in Fere-en-Tardenois, France, which paved the way for the negotiation to seek political solution to Cambodia, although some countries and factions, especially Khmer Rouge, did not agree. Since then, subsequent bilateral and multilateral meetings took place in different places and different forms: Sihanouk-Hun Sen, Sihanouk-Hun Sen-Son Sann, Sihanouk-Hun Sen-Son Sann-Khieu Samphan, Jim I, Jim II, I.M.C in Indonesia, and the first Paris International Conference failed in 1989 and so on, in unpredictable places half of the globe, including France, Thailand, Indonesia, North Korea, China, Japan and even New York. I was one of those who had the most negotiation partners/counterparts of both Cambodians and foreigners. On the battle front, I usually avoided engaging multi-battlefield at the same time, but on the negotiation front, I had no other choice but to open negotiations with multiple partners at the same time because it was necessary for the national unification and happiness of the Cambodian people. Truly, it was not simple at that time as I was just over 30 years old and required to negotiate against some of the most experienced politicians and the leaders of economic, military and political behemoths. It was indeed a very difficult situation, but we were happy and proud of the work because it was the ideal path for the survival of Cambodian people who were the victims and suffered from the past tragedies.

Through tough negotiations, with the efforts to overcome all the difficulties and numerous challenges and mutual concessions, Paris Peace Agreement was reached in 1991 that had become the key basis for the peace-making process and the rehabilitation and development of Cambodia in the later phases. However, those concessions were under the influence and engaged with by external superpowers who had their own agenda. The international community prepared first-ever universal election for Cambodia in 1993 that gave birth to a Coalition Government, leaving a faction (Khmer Rouge) outside the social current that continue to wage war against the government. Hence, the Second Kingdom of Cambodia resurrected when UNTAC left country after spending USD 2 billion; but Cambodia remained divided with two administrative regions and two governments, and ongoing war along the borders with Thailand and other areas in the country in the pattern of leopard spots, as the Khmer Rouge implemented the “Iron Rust” strategy against the Royal Government. Looking at domestic affairs, internal conflicts continue to exist and led to the July 1997 event.

Afterward, with the sympathetic interventions of friend countries, Cambodian people themselves came up with an initiative to achieve a concession and a new agreement without external influence. We adopted the Law on Cambodian Parliamentary Election and established the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council of Cambodia to prepare elections and resolve disputes. With technical and financial assistance from the international community, Cambodia successfully held an election on its own. Thousands of national and international acted as observers and witnesses of the election, issued their views about the election on 26th July 1998 from registration to counting of ballots. They agreed almost unanimously that the election was held in the most peaceful environment in a country infamous for internal conflicts. They also acknowledged that the result of the election clearly reflected the free choice of the Cambodian people. That was why they regarded the election as “Miracle on the Mekong”. Truly, it was a miracle originated from tough and silent leadership and hard-work, especially the will of all the people.

Conflicting views between the parties chosen by the people were resolved in the best interest of the people and the future of Cambodia under the umbrella of Preah Karuna Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, the King Father of Cambodia. As a result, a coalition government which consisted of two major parties: Cambodia’s People Party and FUNCINPEC Party assumed its office. In this context, the “Iron Rush Strategy” of the Pol Pot was confronted with the “Win-Win Policy” of Hun Sen, which was the final round of the national-reunification phase of Cambodia.

Within just 25 days after assuming the office, the new Royal Government managed to eliminate the political and military organizations of the Khmer Rouge. The last remaining Khmer Rouge forces were integrated into the Royal Government. Hence, rebels or Khmer Rouge military no longer existed in Cambodia. All factions came under one roof. The ultimate objective of the Paris Peace Agreement 1991, which could not be realized by UNTAC, became a reality as all Cambodian factions agreed to come under one roof without external influences or orders. Thus, concession is the key to ensuring peaceful coexistence, cooperation and prevention of internal fragmentation. In this regard, I would like to reaffirm with great pride that the “Win-Win Policy” is the core and most important tool of our peace philosophy, and a very important lesson learnt from decades of experiments and struggle to bring about today’s peace and happiness. This key aspect of the “Win-Win Policy” was the recognition that “There Is No Victor in Wars, and Revenge Cannot Bring Peace to the Country and the People”. Therefore, I decided to introduce three guarantees to end the war and controversy in the country, including:

First, the guarantee of security and safety for individuals and families who were willing to end the fighting and returned to the mainstream society.

Second, the guarantee of career safety so they can continue their previous jobs.

Third, the guarantee of property safety as there is not confiscation or whatsoever.

These three policies were the most effective panacea for treating the wound and fragmentation resulted from decades of civil war and internal conflicts and created “Diamond Opportunity” for the rehabilitation and development of Cambodia’s society and economy.

On the basis of hard-earned peace and national unity, the whole nation has sacrificed its physical strength, intellectual strength, and mental strength to bring about development to this poor nation by implementing reform in all sectors to increase and sustain economic growth and to ensure equitable distribution of growth for all classes of people. We are fully aware that the peaceful termination of war and fragmentation is a very steep challenge, but sustaining peace and strengthening the culture of peace are even steeper. To this end, we have to work vigorously and double our effort in order to constantly nurture important roots of peace, including the promotion of non-violence culture and respect of human rights as well as the enhancement of democracy and good governance, and especially resolute effort to reduce poverty in the country and improve the living standard. Without effort and concrete outcomes from these tasks, there will be very slight hope of maintaining this hard-earned peace.

In this context, we have set out the vision to build a country with strongly bonded cells, highly educated citizens, rich culture, good living standard, dignity, peace and harmony without fear, conflict or violence.  In this kind of society, democracy and human rights are the highest value and the only roadmap that can propel the ship of Cambodia toward progress, prosperity, and social justice.  With the firm determination to realize this noble mission, all Cambodian people can look forward with pride and optimism.

In fact, over the period of more than a decade, Cambodia has greatly changed her image, beyond the expectation.  It is still remembered that about twenty years ago, Cambodia received blue hat force of the United Nations in order to carry out peacekeeping operation on the horrible land, full of conflicts and confrontation. Now, Cambodia has become a country that has sent blue hat force to participate in the peacekeeping operation in a number of countries under the umbrella of the United Nations.  Cambodia, previously infamous for the fearful killing field, insecurity and land mines, is now a country with peace and a popular tourism destination in Southeast Asia, receiving more than three million tourists annually. Cambodia, previously infamous for gun battle to gain power and topple governments, is now a country that firmly uphold multiparty democracy through the regular preparation of the free and fair general election to chose leaders, a state governed by laws and regulations, and a sovereign state with territorial integrity and promotion of human rights and dignity. Cambodia, which was used to be politically and economically embargoed and isolated, has now become a country that is integrating actively into the regional and global architecture, and is playing a critical role with equal footing in regional and global affairs.  Cambodia, previously hampered by least progress and covered by poverty, is now ranked 15th in terms of high economic growth during the last ten years, 5th among the developing countries in terms of achieving the millennium development goals, as well as ranked 1st in Asia Pacific Region in terms of improving social indicators, and is now moving energetically from a country of low income status to become the lower middle income country in the near future.

What I have described above are a number of main stages of the most recent Cambodian history that is attached to the duration and evolution of more than half of my personal life.  In fact, these historical events are directly related to the life of Cambodian society in a human life history.  I hope that the sharing of these memory and experiences with ladies and gentlemen as well as with the representatives of Asian Youths and Cambodian Youths today, will be beneficial for your decision about your chosen path in the future.

We have been aware that due to the immaturity, bravery and firm willingness but impatience, our youths sometimes have become the subject of political business and victims of their careless decision and too fast acceptance of political ideologies or propaganda. In this connection, I am truly delighted to observe the maturity of Cambodian youth through their brave activities, supporting the efforts of the Royal Government and Cambodian people as a whole to ensure peace, strengthen political stability, and speed up development for the sake of national progress and prosperity of Cambodian people. These activities really deserve high appreciation and represent the brave tradition of the Cambodian National Solidarity and Salvation Youth Association that was established on 2nd December 1978 as a comprehensive front of Cambodian youth in order to liberate Cambodian people nationwide on 7 January 1979, and then transformed itself to be the Cambodian Youth Association to participate in the movement of restoring and rebuilding the nation, and in November 2012 this Association changed its name to the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) until today.

In addition, I am very proud to note that The Asian Youth Forum 2013 has chosen a very relevant theme: “Youth and Peace: Strengthening Peace, Stability and Development through Education” to be the topic for discussion by incorporating a number of sub-themes including (1) sacrificing for peace: lesson learnt; (2) the role of youth in maintaining peace and stability through education in the context of immediate change.  I believe that the selection of this topic is absolutely right, relevant and timely in the context that the possibility of turmoil and civil war are threatening many countries and regions. In this context, I hope that the sharing of my memory and personal experiences above somehow can contribute to the discussion of the forum on the theme and 1st sub-theme on the lesson learned from sacrifice for peace.

As for the 2nd sub-theme, I think that the recent experiences of Arab Spring and the ongoing civil wars in some countries will remind every youth to always remember their obligation and significance in protecting and maintain the tree of peace that is benefiting us all today and in the future. Careless acceptance of irresponsible rhetoric and political propaganda from outside, may bring about great danger to the whole society for the long term.  If the current youth generation do not take a firm stand, the fruit of peace, stability, and development that have been hardly earned by the previous generations of youth so far might be cancelled out in a very short time, and the country may plunge into instability such as civil war being witnessed in the Arab World and North Africa today.

Once again, I am very pleased to note that our youths do have the conscience of national patriotism, love peace and stability, and each of you are trying to understand better about the historical facts, actively serving the country with leadership, and participating in the forum to discuss and share experiences with each other in order prepare yourself for the mission of protecting and maintaining peace, stability, social order and development for our respective countries, the region and the whole world.

Finally, along with the Opening of the Asia Youth Forum 2013 under the theme: “Youth and Peace: Strengthening of Peace, Stability and Development through Education” today, I would like to wish Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, all participants of the Asia Youth Forum 2013 greater success in your mission, and a pleasant stay in Cambodia, especially may I wish all youths and students who are present in this forum the four gems of Buddhist blessing: Longevity, Nobility, Healthiness, and Strength./.

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