Cambodian Personalities on Parade

The Good, the Bad and the Despicable

Cambodia's constant warfare, brawling jungle politics, easy money from gems, timber, and international aid, psycho-socially scarring history and pervasive lawlessness are fertile soil for the rise to prominence of characters who in, say, England might be marginalized as mere eccentrics. Here they are usually placed in positions of power over others and influence over the course of events.
This guide, now in formation, is not meant to be exhaustive or technical (for that, find Raoul Jennar's Cles du Cambodge) but to give stories and impressions of some of the players that make Cambodia the freak show it is.

Teng Bunma: Trigger-Happy Tycoon
Raoul Jennar: Academic with an Agenda
Sam Rainsy: The Quixotic Opposition
Hun Sen: Samdech Number One
(more to come, just ask about someone and it will happen...)

Hun Sen
Samdech Number One

In his own words:
"I don't want any coup. My hand is soft but when I use it like a metal fist I won't let anybody prepare a coup. If we let a coup happen, it will result in death." (quoted in The Cambodia Daily, April 5, 1996)
"Among the strong students I was strong. Among the strong soldiers I was strong. Now among the strongmen I am strong." (quoted by AFP, October 28, 1999 from an interview in 1998.

Sam Rainsy
The Quixotic Opposition

Son of noted Cambodian politician Sam Sary (widely thought to have been killed on the King's orders in the early 1960s), personifies the main threat to the Hun Sen regime. More on another page.

Raoul Marc Jennar
The Academic wth an Agenda

The Belgian author/compiler of the useful Cles du Cambodge, until 1998 considered to be a credible source on Cambodian history and politics. In the election year he inexplicably adopted a hard line in favor of Hun Sen and the CPP in the publications of his "Cambodia Resource Center" a small organization funded by sources he declines to name.
When Hun Sen in December 1998 welcomed top Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea back into society instead of arresting them for international trial, Jennar--betraying a naivete surprising in one who had enjoyed such intimate relations with the duplicitous--was incensed. He abruptly closed the CRC and co-signed an angry letter denouncing Hun Sen's turn-around. For more on Jennar read Phrog's letter.

Teng Bunma (or Boonma, or Boon Ma)
The Trigger-Happy Tycoon

Greetings, Slate readers. Just want to let you know I wrote this a few years ago (1998 or 99 I think) and what was true then may no longer be.
Originally it was going to be a whole devil's dictionary; you can see I didn't get far. If you have any background questions, feel free to ask.
Cambodia's biggest businessman, owner of Thai Boon Roong Company, the Intercontinental Hotel and Rasmei Kampuchea, Phnom Penh's biggest newspaper.
Although he carries Cambodian and Thai passports, possibly diplomatic ones, Bunma is on the US no-visa list as a suspected drug runner. He is also a close associate of Hun Sen, and at one point claimed to have personally bankrolled the 1996 offensive against the Khmer Rouge. He has sued Nate Thayer and the Far Eastern Economic Review over an article called "Medellin on the Mekong" (not to be confused with the mythical "Miracle on the Mekong"). Perhaps best of all, he's president of the Chamber of Commerce.
This picture is from Global Witness, which has done great work investigating illegal logging in Cambodia.

But Bunma's biggest claim to international fame was the airplane shooting incident in April 1997. Annoyed at perceived rudeness of Royal Air Cambodge staff, on his arrival at Cambodia's Pochentong Airport he had his bodyguard go to the car (conveniently it was allowed to drove right onto the tarmac to pick him up) and get a gun for him. As other passengers disembarked, Bunma shot out a $3000 tire. This was witnessed by dozens of people; Bunma himself bragged about it, but of course the authorities took no action. (I wrote a letter about the incident that was published in The Cambodia Daily.)

The staff of Royal Air Cambodge should count themselves lucky.
"If they were my own staff, I would have shot them," said an unrepentant Bunma. It is unclear whether this comment affected labor relations at Bunma's Intercontinental Hotel. (I was told by one hotel employee in May 1998 that the employees were not given any time off so they could register to vote in the elections, and they were afraid to make any complaint about it.)

A couple of months later Bunma pulled a gun inside a plane that was about to depart for Bangkok, and demanded that it wait for some friends of his who were late. Again, none of this behavior resulted in any civil or criminal complaints.

After the July 1997 coup by his ally, Hun Sen--and as predicted by yours truly, not to brag or anything--Bunma applied for a license to start his own airline, but so far it hasn't gotten off the ground.

A popular Bunma story that may be apocryphal: The tycoon was showing off the building site of the Intercontinental to the very proper French management of the five-star hotel chain. Walking through the building site, Bunma pointed out where the various lounges and restaurants would be, the reception desk and so forth.
"And here," he said with a sweeping gesture, "will be the window with the girls in it!"
"The what?" simpered his business partners-to-be.
"The window with the girls, with numbers so the guests can choose them." One can only imagine the pained explanations of the "Intercontinental image" that must have ensued.

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