Archive for category cambodian politic

Response to article: Foreign Minister Critical of UNTAC’s efforts

bantey_chhmar_feb92-03By Vireak In

IIn the article “Foreign Minister Critical of Untac’s Efforts” where Cambodia’s foreign minister Hor Namhong said “The UN’s transitional authority, which occupied Cambodia in the early 1990s, did little for the country except put an election in place in 1993, but failed to end the country’s war”.

As a former UN staff in Cambodia, I find his comment somewhat offensive. I expect more from the leader. I join “Lao Monghay, a former member of the KPNLF who is now a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, who said Hor Namhong’s criticism of UNTAC overlooked the work the peacekeepers did accomplish”.

Foreign minister Hor Namhong ignore the humanitarian work which UNTAC carry out before the 1993 election, the repatriation of some 360,000 refugees from camps along Khmer-Thai border. Most of the refugees were civilians, rice farmers from north-western Cambodia, who had sought refuge on the Thai border from the ongoing conflicts following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime following the invasion of the Vietnamese in 1979. Some refugees escape from the government that mean to provide them sanctuary, but fail to do so, instead people face with intimidation, starvation just to name a few, wonder why foreign minister Hor Namhong fail to acknowledge such a wonderful job by UNTACT.

At the time, the repatriation was considered to be the biggest operation ever undertaken by UN, many critic do not believe it is possible to carry out such an operation. Repatriate 360, 000 from Khmer-Thai border and then integrate the returnees into the community of their choice, issue the identification cards for all returnees so they are ready for the 1993 election.

I still remember the joy when the first convoy across the border and make their way to Sisophon, many of the children were born in the Camp and return to the country that they never knew, but they call it home. I still remember when we accompany the first envoy to Stung Treng, the road was so bad that we have make our trip by Helicopter. I still remember when we accompany returnee to the no-go zone, yet it was the wish of the returnees. I still remember how taught it was to negotiate land for returnees, some allocated land were so heavy laid with land-mine, thank to Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) returnees can settle safely in the allocated land.

Under the leadership of the late special envoy Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the repatriation operation was a very successful one. Sérgio Vieira de Mello (March 15, 1948 – August 19, 2003) was a Brazilian United Nations (UN) diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN. He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 21 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq. The man whom I greatly admire and have the pleasure to work with.

It is undeniable that UNTAC has done so much for Cambodia, as in the word of President Sam Rainsy from the same article “Beyond the elections, the UN and the accords helped oust a Vietnamese force that would have had people living under a communist regime even today”.

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Sam Rainsy: What is the faith of Sam Rainsy party?

President Sam Rainsy

President Sam Rainsy

By Vireak In

President Sam Rainsy is full of joy and hope when he visited party supporters in Australia. This was just before the 2008 election, in a small gathering he pointed to everyone in the room, “if we win the election, we will need all of you”. The election has come and gone, what about the joy and hope?

Those who close to the president, know he has fought hard, may be too hard. The picture on the right hand side probably say a lot about how Sam Rainsy has lead the party through last year election. He pulls the load while his team parades a long.

In hindsight, we know that not the only factor. There were fraud and irregularities in the voting system and there were the 2008 Cambodian-Thai stand-off over the Preah Vihear Temple which were widely seen as a successful attempt of the ruling CPP to gain more support.

And there were media restriction, Sam Rainsy party and other minor parties have no access to media to explain their party policy.

Despite all of these, there were 1, 316, 714 voters put their trust on Sam Rainsy party compare to 3, 492, 374 voters for the CPP, which equate to 21.91% of the total voters.

1, 316, 714 Cambodian people fight against all odd so their voices can be heard, they want to tell the government that they want a better standard of living, they hate corruption and they want a free health care.

As long as 1, 316, 714 or more Cambodian people behind Sam Rainsy party, there is still joy and hope! To ensure we have real hope, not a fault hope. Sam Rainsy party needs to do more, Sam Rainsy party needs share the load.

There have been suggestions for all Sam Rainsy MP to take up the role as shadow minister, where senior MP take up more then one ministerial roles. As part of the of the Key performance indicator (KIP), each PM at least have one meeting per month with minister of their portfolio.

This will not only give MP the opportunity to have hand on experience, but it also allow MP to work closely with the current government, engage in a constructive way. The suggestion comes as more Sam Rainsy supporters worry about the faith of their party. Many see the suggestion as a step toward the right the direction, the next election is not too far a way and it is time for Sam Rainsy party to come together and look at ways to stimulate the party.

Sam Rainsy is the architecture and founder of Sam Rainsy party, he lead the party through many elections. No doubt, Sam Rainsy is the second largest party in country. Sam Rainsy used to enjoy financial support from within the country and abroad. But 13 years in opposition is a long time, some even start to predict the next election will be the last for Sam Rainsy, if there is no dramatic change in the current structure.

One supporter, only want to name as Kim said “Sam Rainsy party needs to look beyond opposition and start to believe that it can lead the country, once it has that mindset everything else will fall in places. With one Sam Rainsy, the party receieve 1, 316, 714 votes. Imagine 25 Sam Rainsy”. Kim was referring to 25 MP of the Sam Rainsy party. Maybe as Kim suggested, it is time for Sam Rainsy start to groom it MP!


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Cambodia’s New War

Heng Sinith / AP Photo

Heng Sinith / AP Photo

by Katrin Redfern

The Nobel-nominated opposition leader of Southeast Asia’s saddest, bloodiest country has brought a message for Hillary Clinton: Our democracy needs your help.

Cambodia is at war again. This time, the battles surround who will control resources—land, timber, fisheries, oil—with a corrupt elite taking over the nation’s emerging export economy, while international donors turn a blind eye and 14 million Cambodians suffer.

“Cambodia is a democracy on paper but in reality a dictatorship. Our party activists are murdered because they fight for justice—life is still cheap in Cambodia.”

A new American president, many Cambodians hope, might change all that. Sochua Mu, an opposition leader and founder of the women’s movement in Cambodia, recently returned to the U.S., lobbying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a firmer line on democracy and human rights in her long-suffering country. “I needed to see the people in the new administration to urge them to re-assess U.S. foreign policy,” says Sochua in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Cambodia is a democracy on paper but in reality a dictatorship. Our party activists are murdered because they fight for justice—life is still cheap in Cambodia. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, land grabbing, and forced evictions are all carried out under the nose of the government.”

Sochua Mu’s story is uniquely Cambodian. Forced to flee for her life at 18 in the early 1970s as the Vietnam War spilled over the border, she left behind her parents, who vanished, as did one-quarter of the country’s population during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Sochua wound up in America, won a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, and worked as a counselor and translator for the Cambodian refugees who began to trickle over. She eventually became a U.S. citizen.

During the 1980s, she returned to Southeast Asia, organizing schooling for children and social services for women in the refugee camps set up by the U.N. on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. In 1989, she was finally allowed to re-enter her homeland, “a country in ruins.” “I would take my young children on walks in streets where I learned to bike, where I wandered with my childhood friends, where I went to school, all the years of joy, of happiness, of deep feelings of comfort came back to me,” she says. “I came back to help rebuild a nation. The war and genocide also changed my people. They have lost their sense of trust for each other, they have become hard inside and desperate for just daily survival.”

Sochua started the first women’s organization in Cambodia, Khemera, designed to help poor urban women earn a better living. She campaigned to include women’s rights and concerns into the country’s new constitution, drafted in 1993, and became involved in efforts to rescue girls caught in Cambodia’s thriving sex trade. In 1998, Sochua ran for election and won a seat in parliament, taking over the women’s affairs ministry, which had previously been run by men. In a country that considers women inferior, Sochua mobilized 25,000 female candidates to run for commune elections in 2002. It was a first for Cambodia, and 900 of them were elected.

She negotiated an agreement with Thailand that allowed Cambodian women trafficked as sex workers to return to their home country instead of being jailed. She pioneered the use of TV commercials to spread the word about trafficking to vulnerable populations. Her work in Cambodia also supports campaigns to end domestic violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as women’s workplace conditions. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women.

Her position in high government put her in direct conflict with Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister, Hun Sen. Rather than participate in the corruption she saw around her, Sochua Mu renounced the leadership and joined the primary opposition party in parliament. Last week, Sochua announced that she is considering legal action against the prime minister for allegedly using derogatory and threatening language against her in a speech he made last month during a visit to her parliamentary district. The speech, widely reported on Cambodian TV and other media, warned villagers not to seek help from members of the opposition party, but to approach the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and allegedly referred to Sochua using a Khmer term cheung kland—a gangster or unruly person, which has an especially insulting connation for women.

Her most frequent public disagreement with Hun Sen surrounds what she sees as a failure to prevent people in her district from suffering loss of property and livelihoods at the hands of powerful investors, often with the backing of local authorities and the military. Most Cambodians still depend on small-scale agriculture, forest exploitation, and fishing for their livelihoods but, because of the country’s turbulent recent history, land ownership is generally undocumented and often contested. As a result, it is easy for the powerful to acquire land to develop. More than 150,000 Cambodians, according to Sochua, were victims of forced evictions and land-grabbing in 2007 alone. Studies have estimated that such concessions cover as much as one-third of the entire area of Cambodia.

“It is now common practice for powerful corporations and government officials to utilize armed forces to push citizens off their rightfully and legally held land,” says Sochua. “These evictions are often violent, with soldiers wielding guns, tear gas and Tasers and burning houses to the ground, while citizens are beaten, maimed and arrested.”

Cambodia’s economy relies on three principal sources of income: tourism, agriculture, and textiles. The United States is the largest overseas market for the latter. As former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli put it, “Levi Strauss or the Gap could destroy this country on a whim.”

George W. Bush’s policy, as Sochua saw it, focused on military and security-centered aid. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. provided Cambodia $54 million last year and $700 million total since the agency opened an office in the country in 1992. Other international donors, meanwhile, have done little better in holding the Cambodian government accountable on human rights, preferring “closed-door diplomacy,” as she calls it, to public criticism. “This practice has yielded next to no reforms,” she says, “and donors continue to be satisfied with token actions taken by the government to give a façade to democracy and social justice.”

Even that oversight is at risk. Chevron discovered oil offshore several years ago, and the Cambodian government says it hopes to begin pumping oil in 2011. The IMF estimated last year that the country could earn as much as $1.7 billion from oil within 10 years of the date that pumping begins—a big deal for this poor country, which relies on donors for half of its annual budget, but also more money that won’t carry any accountability.

Some aid agencies have called for a moratorium on aid until basic governance and transparency frameworks are in place. Sochua says that won’t happen until there’s a new regime. “That can only happen when we have a real election that is free and fair,” she says. “The West should insist on that, otherwise all the aid they have poured into Cambodia will not work”.

Katrin Redfern is a writer and editor at The Indypendent in New York City.


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