- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Cambodia, the nation once known as the "Killing Fields," now desperately needs democratic reforms to avert another crisis, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said.

"It is no stretch to imagine that lawless Cambodia could soon become a haven for international terrorists in search of passports, bank accounts or training camps," Mr. Sam Rainsy said while receiving the Heritage Freedom Award from the International Republican Institute and the Heritage Foundation last week.

"Our meager economic growth is driven by trade in sex, drugs and crime. Cronies of the ruling parties in Cambodia get rich from corruption and illegal activities while the lives of ordinary people do not improve," he said.

Mr. Sam Rainsy, a former international banker, is the most outspoken critic of longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. His Sam Rainsy Party has emerged as the leading opposition challenger to Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party in the general elections scheduled for July.

"Cambodia has suffered for 17 years under the dictatorship of Mr. Hun Sen," he said. While the Cambodians were subjected to forced labor and massacres under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, the rule of Hun Sen and his party "has brought little improvement to the living conditions of ordinary Cambodians," Mr. Sam Rainsy said.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries of Asia second to Afghanistan and has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection, he said. Two-thirds of Cambodians are illiterate, and the infant mortality rate is the worst in Southeast Asia, he said.

The award was presented by Sen. John McCain, who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Cambodia's neighbor, Vietnam, and is a supporter of the democracy movement in Cambodia. Republican Reps. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and David Dreier of California also attended the ceremony Thursday.

Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Sam Rainsy "symbolizes of struggles of democracy and freedom," not only to Cambodia but also to the world. "He is a genuine hero."

The Sam Rainsy Party has been steadily increasing its vote share during the past several years. "My party has continued to improve its standing with the Cambodian people," by winning elections in 13 provinces, including the nation's largest, Poipet, Mr. Sam Rainsy said. This growth has given his party an unprecedented level of national organization and visibility with the Cambodian people.

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