I have the prepared text here but because my eyes have a problem I suggest that I will go adlib and the text should be included into the proceedings of the General Assembly. Today I have a great pleasure to join with our senior officials in closing the General Assembly of the Nationwide Representatives (of the Cambodian Veterans Association – CVA) and I would like to convey my appreciation to leaders and member participants of the General Association for their hard works in the last two days that HE Madame Men Sam An, Permanent Deputy Prime Minister, has just reported that two important works have been dealt with – 1) reform of the CVA statute and 2) electing additional members of the central committee and the permanent committee. It is equally important that the General Assembly has reviewed the work done in the last three years 2008-2010, while setting new tasks and targets for the next period.
I would like to take this opportune moment to express my greeting and appreciation for efforts by concerned persons and bodies to achieve so much progress in the last three years. Thanks to a well-prepared mechanism at the national and sub-national levels, CVA has made notably speedy progress. The organization of CVA has been the result of congresses from sub-national to national levels and today we are in what we call the nationwide representatives Extraordinary Congress, by which CVA elected new members to its relevant committees. Despite the fact that CVA is indeed a non-governmental organization it also enjoys a partnering status with the Royal Government, whereas officials with senior positions in the Government have also taken up the positions in this cooperation too.
I thank all concerned, organizers and members, in the whole Congress for their supports for my position as President of the Cambodian Veterans Association and now I know that when I retired I may have to take up a job – President of the Cambodian Veterans Association with other jobs like writing, etc. and I am sure my books will sell well because they will carry many never-before revealed stories. I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation for the confidence expressed in my leadership. I wish to have your attention on one fact only that success or failure would not depend entirely on person in the presidency alone but our common efforts, ranging from members to leaders.
Let me welcome the newly elected members and leaders of the Cambodian Veterans Association and I hope they will make efforts and contributions for solving problems and challenges of the Association. I wish to take this opportunity to give my high evaluation to all efforts involved, including also those of veterans themselves in the past three years, especially impact of world financial crisis and economic downturn in the last years. They have been making personal efforts resolving own difficulties. According to the report by HE Ith Sam Heng, Minister for Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, we have in all over 90,000 veterans of all uniforms who have been on the Royal Government’s rations/pensions list with some 260,000 dependants, all of which requires a sum of over 6.4 billion Riles a month. In addition to that they also benefit from a twenty per cent pay rise annually is applied to incumbent officials.
However, we still have challenges to face and cope with and I have some recommendations to make so that further efforts could be made. This is not solely for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, but all relevant institutions have to take actions in crosschecking issues of selling-buying and/or mortgaging rations and/or pensions (provided) by (the Royal Government’s) policy for the veterans. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all who have purchased identities (regime logbooks) from disabled veterans to return them out of charity, either for free or for a reasonable price. I have learned of this situation from a veteran and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation have confirmed this to me too.
During a short break in Sihanoukville last year, I happened to meet with Chan Aun, a disable veteran, and in this case, the real one is alive but the fake one is dead. The story is when his wife fell ill he was forced to sell out his regime logbook for a million Riel in 1997-98 to a person, who could use the book for just two years before he died. In light of this Chan Aun has been taken to have died, while the regime in his logbook remains for his two children. Having learned of this situation, I have bought the logbook back for him and ordered for Chan Aun to be reinstated in the list of veterans and entitled to the regime again and to a piece of land and house at the Taken-Koh Sla Handicap Soldiers Development Zone.
With this in mind I ask for further crosschecks to be made and understandings from our people in better off position who have bought the regime logbook to kindly return them out of charity or at a reasonably recovering price to their rightful and entitled holders. I think I could make a contribution for the efforts to purchase them back. However, I warn against any actions by our disabled veterans to sell their logbooks in the knowledge that they would be purchased and then given back to them. That would not be allowed. It is an estimate of about two or three percents of the case in point and some 1.5% of the people would have the ability to return the books for free, whereas another .5% are seeking a return favor. In my capacity as the President of CVA, a token price could be set to buy them back and return them to their true holders, who could make their lives better together with land to be provided as social concession to them.
The Ministry of Rural Development under the leadership of HE Minister Chea Sophara is making efforts in carrying out integration and development to north and to north-west of the country – Preah Vihear and the border areas, Banteal Meanjei, Mealay, Pailin, where houses and roads are built. Before long, those areas, former battlefields, will be sources of new economic growth. This is our vision – to transform battlefields into development sites. Aside from the national road to Pailin, we will soon have another road to from Thmor Kol (of Battambang province) to Komrieng, Phnom Proeuk, etc. and there will be another road from Banteay Meanjei to Pailin also. We will soon have a better infrastructural setup and I say it would be impossible for Cambodia to integrate itself with neighboring countries when it is not well integrated internally.
It would not suffice to fulfill only two elements – political and administrative – in the process of integration. The policy of speeding up development of infrastructure in the post war era to serve national unity must be a priority and fulfilled to the full. The areas are no longer war but development zones. In so far we have built homes for families of soldiers to the north of the country and the project has in fact been expanded from the province of Preah Vihear to Uddar Meanjei and on. With our better resources, we will need to pick up more speed to fulfill this task. I would ascertain that giving land as social concession to soldiers and their families should go ahead according to and within the work plan of 2010-2013. All provinces and municipalities must systematically oversee the works, while making efforts to resolve land issues with relevant institutions such as the Ministries of Rural Development, of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction, to be referral with the Ministries of National Defense, of Interior, and of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.
Who among them need to be given out land? It should not be understood and interpreted that all need to be given land. I have instructed provincial authorities to set targets and land for giving them out to veterans and disabled veterans. Take for instance it would be irrelevant to give a plot of land up in the hill because their disabilities would not allow them to be able to work on it. They should be provided with land that is suitable for cultivation and accessibility to road, healthcare service and schooling for children. Anywhere we build villages for soldiers we also build them schools and health clinics too.
At the same time I would like to make an appeal to authorities in districts and municipalities to verify, in their areas of judicial administration, the number of veterans with a more specified and detailed indicators as to what percentage of the figure verified is defined to be poor so that a target of assistance could be proposed. Because of the fact that we have 24 provinces/municipalities, if two families could be verified and helped per annum, we could be addressing difficulties for 48 families too. In the same manner, because we have up to some 190 and 200 districts, with two families each, we could make a calculative improvement of their living conditions. As far as those in need are concerned here, let me clarify, no discrimination against anyone for his/her political past or affiliation will be allowed.
Assistance will be provided equally across the board. We have to ask question as to why we have so much disabled veterans. Why do we have so many soldiers? Trace it backward, if it were not because of the March-18 coup against then Head of State Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk by the Lon Nol, Sirik Matak, Cheng Heng and In Tam clique, the war could not have happened. Indeed the war broke out in Vietnam, whereas Cambodia did indeed suffer the impacts from the US bombardments along our border areas. The country could have been still a small peaceful island. If the country did not suffer that ill-fate and the Head of State Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, the Heroic King-Father, was in control, for the period of forty years, starting March 18 and the present moment, Cambodia, to my understanding, would not have been in this state.
It is important to look straight into the problem and its origin. Who was the cause of so many atrocities and killings? When one refers to Cambodian issue, I would recommend they look at the whole picture as segmenting it would be incomprehensive. Some people are afraid to talk about January 79 when they all were walking barefoot. One has to have historical perception in making evaluation of situation. The three elements of historical, dialectical and logic concepts could not be separated. They are three in one. To analyze it further, if we leave the country as a peaceful island that is making daily progress, though some people could have been unsatisfactory, all of us could have gone to school.
The March-18 coup that overthrew then lawful head of state and brought about disastrous war is a true fact in the Cambodian history. Some people (who took powers before) had been so irresponsible that we have had to pay back their debts they borrowed for bombs to drop on Cambodians. To whom do we bring this responsibility upon? Some dare not mention this. Before Cambodia is reaching this state of being, how many factional controls had it been under? Starting in 1970, Cambodia was under two controls – the National Liberation Front on one side and the Lon Nol regime on the other. Between 1975 and 1979, though Pol Pot ruled the country with genocide, they could not afford to have one nation under their rule, because otherwise there would not be any resistance forces. Between 1979 and 1993, Cambodia was under four different rules – and between 1993 and 1998, Cambodia again came to the state of two different rules.
Therefore, we have here veterans of so many factions and uniforms, take for instance after 1979, we have had four different kinds of veterans – those from former State of Cambodia, Democratic Kampuchea, Khmer People’s Liberation Front, and FUNCINPEC. Therefore, when all of you go solving the problem in your duty, no matter from which side they are, you have to think of them as someone that are sharing same flesh and blood. The win-win policy has brought about peace and we all are united forces and not being marked to be different by color (or political inclination) anymore. There is only one Khmer nation. We are governed by one unified rule, King, Constitution, Royal Government and armed forces, though we have, in a democratic electoral process, more political parties.
Cambodia then faced so many challenges. Integration from all political lines brought me a comparison to a pot that we used to cook rice for one person, and we then had to serve four with the same amount of rice. Except the State of Cambodia, other political forces did not have regular flow of income. They all had to get paid in Phnom Penh on the basis of the State of Cambodia’s infrastructural base. The UN envoy then came to see me at my residence at Vimean Ekareaj (the Independence Monumnet) and proposed me to slash some 30% of Government officials. I told him I agreed in principle but we could not afford to allow cut into the number of teachers and physicians, but their number need to go up instead. And the way to trim the figure down is by not recruiting new ones in lieu of retirees.
We have done the same in effort to bring down the number of soldiers. We have demobilized some 17,000 soldiers already but more money is needed to do more. I used to say that in time of war asking someone for money for war purpose is easier than seeking someone’s help in time of peace in order to demobilize soldiers. I have seen what HE Serei Kosal had said in an interview on what happened on July 5-6, 1997 but the interview would not be aired as I have instructed. As a live witness, HE Serei Kosal clarified about how the Khmer Rouge forces had been mobilized to station in Samdech Pan building and Funcinpec headquarters. The matter is over now though. If there is a need for interview with HE Serei Kosal, he may do so for another one or two hours in detail on what was the plan. He is a live witness, while some (the culprits) accused me of being the coup maker.
They fought us and upon our retaliation, they shouted out loud we conducted a coup. It seems the brief fight brought about a lasting stability, though. I have gone through 105 fights in battlefield before being promoted to the rank of commander. This is not a big figure tough because some of my soldiers have engaged in more battles/fights than I have. In the five-year war between 1970 and 1975, in average, soldiers of my ranks went to some twenty fights per year, whereas soldiers under command went for fight at the rate of one week per month, which made their fight records more than mine. I sent a message through a diplomat in Phnom Penh that before this generation of commanders retires, any military attempts should not be put to a test. They did not take it and tested our resolves. They failed but their ambition forced them to make an attempt on my life again in Siemreap province. They should not think their secret is not known.
Well, this has come into my comments because I have to elaborate as to why Cambodia has so many veterans and some updates on our plan to reduce soldiers, but in the face of foreign aggression now, I would not give it a go yet. I just wanted to clarify to you all that we used to ask them for further demobilization of soldiers but they denied giving us money for that so we have to keep them. We do not have to station them at the border with Vietnam or Laos, so we could make full use of our forces. Again, I have clarified already that I am not prepared for war with anyone or country and I seek solution by peaceful means. I do not want a war to happen.
Because of modern telecommunication means, we now could see live or almost real time broadcast of what happened in countries at war like Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been so grisly and shocking. Let’s imagine how shocking it was to see people carrying children into trenches and at our young age we had to help people put out fire from bombardments on their homes. We know full well the taste and frightfulness of war. It is in this sense that I would reiterate that whatever you do or say, war-making must not be an option because it has been hard to get this far. We all are now sitting together now. Again, in this application, to perform duty in relation to veterans and disabled soldiers, no political pasts should be a barrier, as they were not the ones to have brought about war and differences. We all are war victims but we all should take the pride of being the ones that put it to an end and make it a peaceful nation again.
There has been a contribution from the United Nations but upon its departure, Cambodia is left with a state of having two control areas and Governments. Now we have come together and united where the challenge of making a better living is the most important factor. It is my wish that veterans without land will have got land for cultivation and as legacies for generations of their children. It is in this intention that I have decided to move disabled veterans from Kien Svay (where there is no land for giving out to them) to Taken Koh Sla. But we also have other veterans for whom we build them villages along the border, which I have see as a policy for achieving social labor redistribution in combination between national socio-economic development and defense purpose.
I would like to give my congratulations to those 37 veterans who have been presented with gold medal of honor along with a house that costs between three and five thousand dollars for each of them. For those 24 veterans to receive silver medals along with a package tour that costs around 1000 US dollars, I would suggest that the Congress offers them in cash and let them decide what to do with the money.
Today is also the third anniversary of the Cambodian Veterans Day. Thirty three years ago at this hour I was leaving a kitchen section and left my rifle there. I have told that on the night of June 20, I left at around two am, June 21, 1977 to be exact, and crossed into Vietnam at the border point between Tonle Cham and Prek Jiv. I had to stop for poor visibility from fog and lack of information as to where could be the Vietnamese military outposts. I asked my colleagues to take a rest at a termite mount. We started our journey again at night following a map that was read by flash of lightning.
Upon my return in 1977, I happened to collect a circulation that was ordering for my arrest under the signature of Mr. Soth, who happened to be regional secretary and head of the military. That made me think leaving for Vietnam was the correct decision to make. I had attempted to wage a revolt against the Khmer Rouge but later abandoned it because I felt it would be a dead-end to rise against the local Khmer Rouge leader at that time. I was summoned to a meeting and the commander then named Den was there. I was told to report the number of soldiers I had. I had at that time 1,776 soldiers after some had been transferred to other military units. I was forced to write a letter to summon four others – Gen. Nhek Huon was one of them. There was a sentence I wrote in the letter that they did not seem to have taken notice of and it was “please come see me before reporting yourselves.” I could understand they had intention to catch us five altogether.
I then ordered my soldiers to get rice out and prepare for cooking. I had a plan in mind that if ever there needed for a fight, let it be so. If it was possible to avoid confrontation, and if one group (of soldiers) were to disagree with me, I would have had another group to join me. I took a rest and wrote a letter to my wife and I could still remember two lines that go “once you are reading my letter, I am at a very far place that I also do not know where I am or could be,” and “I must say goodbye for when I were to return is not known.” A soldier of Stieng ethnic group delivered the letter to my wife at hand. He is still alive. He does not ask to be made important person at all. I helped build him a house. Let’s think if the soldier was not faithful and brought the news to the Khmer Rouge organization, my wife could have been killed before anyone knew it. It could have been possible that he burned the letter and took away the traditional medicine that I sent for my wife. He did not do either of the above and delivered them to my wife who was then five-month pregnant.
After the liberation, I returned from Vietnam and reunited with my wife and child. My son called me uncle for about two months. This is my life and it is not too much that you have offered me the position of President of CVA because I was a real soldier. In Vietnam, we were questioned at the village of Hoa Lu Lieu, and then at Lok Ninh, and then Song Be before they decided to believe us. Here in front of us is General Ba Kung, who has been soldier who fought against the French, the Americans and Polpotists on the Cambodian soil. Here also are HE Meas Huon, Meas Kroj and Ngo Minh who are my three assistants. There were two younger soldiers at that time – Sao Sokha, who was then 16, and Tjoeun Sovantha, 17, and who were responsible in providing me with protection. Mr. Keo Samuon was my secretary.
Someone has claimed on radio to be my commander. Maybe HE General Nhek Huon may have listened to it. He said that I, senior brother Heng Samrin and senior brother Chea Sim were his soldiers. No one was higher in command than me and here we have all the witnesses – both Vietnamese and Cambodian. How could the person claim himself to be father of December 2 and January 7? I was detained for twenty two days with no handcuff on.
Also I would like to take today’s forum to send a message to Mr. Surya P. Subedi, the UN special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, relating to my notification of ill health (that I could not meet him). He said in a press conference that he was “disappointed” (that I did not see him) which to me is meaning differently to “being sorry,” which I think the term he used conveys disrespect for the host party, and no less, the disrespect for a leader of an independent and sovereign nation. This is also a disrespect shown to the people of Cambodia who have voted for the Cambodian People’s Party to have a majority in the parliament, which in return elected Hun Sen as the Prime Minister. I hope he will correct the term he used. He could have used other terms like “sorry for being unable to meet with the Prime Minister,” or “hope to see him next time,” and even more polite “hope his health is getting better soon”.
I would base on this reason to consider how often I should meet with this envoy. As usual, I met the envoy three times a year. In fact whenever he comes I have to meet him. But now it seems there has not been a respect. So my message is that (1) I am sorry that you have used the term “disappointed” and a more polite term should be used in respect for person in sickness, (2) please do not try to push the door open when the door is already open or to tell me it is raining when in fact I am in the rain. I mean whatever you think of thinking, I am thinking on it a hundred or a thousand times more than you do. In this world no one loves a nation than its own nationals. No one loves Khmer than Khmer, (3) you need to look at the whole forest in combination with every single tree.
I also would like to send a message to those inside and outside the country about what could be called a “no-shadow organization.” I thank people who hold my picture to show support for the policy on land issue and brought me information in relation to that. But how could the no-shadow organization organized action that coincided with the bringing in representatives from all 24 provinces? Is it the will of the people or is there a push by any no-shadow organization. I also must assure Mr. Subedi that this is not the reason why I could not see him as in fact I learned about this from CTN TV after I made my decision only. So I would stress again that we are good partners and I could not accept the term you used. I did not avoid meeting with you, but it was because of my poor health./.