Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

November 19, 2012

Obama meets with Cambodia's longtime 'strongman'


Cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan points out that Cambodia has experienced steady growth for the past 10 years, and expects to attain a per-capita income of $1,000 in 2013.

He calls Hun Sen "the right man at the right time" for a transition to "free markets and multiparty liberal democracy." The government has passed Cambodia's first anti-corruption law, Phay Siphan said, and now requires the disclosures of officials' assets.

That law, though, has not stopped rampant family business dealings, cronyism and corruption. Opposition politicians and watchdog groups such as Global Witness accuse Hun Sen of overseeing the selloffs of the country's forests to rapacious logging companies — displacing masses of small farmers.

"Cambodia today is a country for sale," says Mu Sochua, a lawmaker from Sam Rainsy's opposition Cambodian National Rescue party.

But opponents and activists have little power to change the government, and even Hun Sen may be as beholden to his nation's economic interests as he is in control of them. "I'm not so sure he is their master or their puppet," says analyst Lao Mong Hay.

Even so, few doubt the outcome when Hun Sen faces a general election next year.

As Hun Sen put it ahead of the last election in 2008: "I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen. Only Hun Sen alone can defeat Hun Sen."

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