Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Former King Sihanouk to head a sensitive and difficult mission

Former King Sihanouk to head a sensitive and difficult mission
Tue, 3 May 2005

Former King Norodom Sihanouk, who has been on an extended stay in Beijing since January this year, partly for his regular medical consultations and partly as an expression of his unhappiness over certain domestic political developments, is now expected to return soon to Phnom Penh.

Concern and speculation over the health of the 82 year old King-Father, as he has been designated since his retirement in Oct 2004, were heightened when his son, King Norodom Sihamoni, left for Beijing on 23 April to be with his father.

A newspaper hastily contacted Sihanouk's biographer in its preparation of an obituary. This and other speculation prompted the former King to apologise, tongue-in-cheek, for not being able to oblige those who were prematurely predicting his demise explaining that "for the moment, God and the Buddha have not decided to send me to the afterlife."

While this was welcome news and put an end to fears about the health of the much-loved former monarch, most Cambodians were not prepared for an unexpected development that followed - the retired King accepted an invitation to chair the newly formed Supreme National Council on Border Issues.

In a letter from Beijing to Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Sihamoni said that his father had accepted his invitation to lead the Council explaining that, "at the end of his life, he wishes to serve the nation and the people in the framework of his mission to protect the kingdom's territorial integrity". The King added that Sihanouk was "still full of energy to fulfill this duty"

The King went on to mention that if neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Laos were agreeable to appoint representatives, Sihanouk would enter into discussions with them on the modality for undertaking the demarcation of the disputed borders based on detailed maps prepared by the US in the sixties.

Border integrity is a sensitive issue in Cambodia's relations with its neighbours and in domestic Cambodian politics. Sihanouk has himself been a severe critic of the border agreements reached between Cambodia and her neighbours during the 1979 to 1991 Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Sihanouk is not alone in this. There is a strong and vocal lobby not only in the country but among overseas Cambodians who argue that not only had Cambodia significantly lost out territories in these agreements but that encroachment of Cambodian land has continued unabated to this day.

To drive home the point, a story circulated not too long ago that the family home along the Cambodian Vietnam border, of Heng Samrin, the Honorary President of the CPP, was now in Vietnamese territory.

Not surprisingly, too, border integrity was an issue during the last elections and again factored in the negotiations between the dominant Cambodian Peoples Party and the royalist Funcinpec (FCP). Interestingly, it is now FCP, the party founded by Sihanouk, which is championing the border cause and calling for the implementation of the previously-agreed seven-member supra-council in which the King, the National Assembly, the Senate, the Government and the three political parties nominate a representative each.

The King nominates the Chairman of the Council and in the event has chosen his father, a decision that must have had the tacit support of CPP leader Hun Sen and FCP leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the King's half-brother.

The former King's acceptance of the important post suggests a much-welcomed easing of tensions between him and the politicians and paves the way for him to return home to the welcome of a people he genuinely cares for.

There are, however, serious difficulties ahead for Sihanouk's Council. In the first instance, he has to work out an internal consensus among the heavyweight politicians who are Council members. They represent those who want the cancellation of all bilateral border treaties entered upon between 1979 and 1991 and those who uphold the validity of the existing treaties.

Sihanouk has the skills, the experience and the personal standing to hammer out a loose working arrangement.

His major difficulty will be in dealing with his neighbours - especially given his intention of basing the negotiations on the maps prepared by the Americans in the sixties. Even if the modality for the negotiations are agreed upon, the process can take years.

There is already in existence a Border Committee which has been negotiating with the neighbouring countries on the basis of the border agreements already in force. There has yet been no official disclosure on the future of this Committee,which is not universally popular, but which some believe can serve the new body on technical matters.

Given Sihanouk's strident criticisms about the loss of Khmer land, there are those who believe that heading the Supreme Border Council presents him the opportunity to bring his wisdom to bear on this sensitive issue.

The neighbours, however, will not easily forget a strongly worded open letter Sihanouk sent on 31 March this year to the governments of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam on the loss of Khmer land. He pointed out that Cambodia was not clamouring for "her lands, seas, and islands" lost during "the post-Angokorian Period from the 15th to 19th century and even after that"

Sihanouk continued, however, that " the Nation, the People, and the State of Cambodia (Kampuchea) would not accept to loose (unfairly and illegally to Your unjustifiable gain) even one square meter, one-tenth of a square meter, or a square centimeter of her (land and maritime) territorial integrity which she owned in all legality and legitimacy as clearly indicated in the military maps produced by the U.S.A. (Your Friends, an ex-Enemy of Norodom Sihanouk): these are maps produced between 1963 (one year after the equitable Verdict on Preah Vihear by the Hague International Court of Justice) and 1969 (one year before the anti-constitutional Putsch by Lon Nol, Sirik Matak and Co., the satellites of Uncle Sam and President Richard Nixon).

"Since my return to my Homeland, in 1991 up until now, I had, alas, observed that You 3 (Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos) never ceased, do not cease and continue to nibble away little by little the villages, lands, seas, and islands belonging to Cambodia, an ASEAN member just like You. "To cite only the villages belonging to poor Khmer people [living] near Vietnam, numerous of these villages which, under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum Era (1955-1969), were well within Cambodia, now find themselves located within the S.R. of Vietnam boundary; these villages are well kept and protected by militia and soldiers of this S.R.V. Everyone knows that the new maritime borders delimitation between Cambodia and Thailand on one hand, and between Cambodia and Vietnam, on the other hand, gave enormous advantages, in terms of seas and islands, to these 2 large neighbors with respect to what these 2 large neighbors owned up to 1969.

"The Cambodian People, all Khmer men and women both inside and outside of Cambodia, who are not traitors to their Homeland, request that You nobly come to respect international Law, the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia, and the UN Charter, by accepting, with a fair play which will avoid you dishonor, to surrender to the current Cambodia the villages, lands, seas, and islands that You had stolen and took away from us.

"Since You had claimed to the world that You are neither thieves nor gulpers of Khmer villages, lands, seas, and islands, please accept with open heart and as soon as possible, my Proposal of verification, kilometer by kilometer, on the ground and on the spot of the delimitation of our common borders found in the U.S. geographic Maps produced by Washington D.C.between 1963 and 1969) by both Your accredited envoys and by those of Cambodia."

These are tough words which explains the deep emotions over the issue. Emotions, however, will not resolve border problems anywhere in the world - what's needed are documents, maps, goodwill,patience and tolerance. Fortunately, Sihanouk has the astute political sense and the long experience to rise above emotions. He,nevertheless, has a tough job ahead of him.

Postscript: Sihanouk was expected to return to Cambodia on 8 May but this has had to be delayed as his doctors in Beijing have just recommended further treatment. Given this, Sihanouk has invited the members of the Supreme National Council to travel to Beijing for the inaugural meeting.

The writer, until recently Singapore's Ambassador to Cambodia, is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

SUBMITTED BY: Verghese Mathews
Email: math....@iseas.edu.sg

Tue, 3 May 2005

Powered by Blogger

 Home   |   About Us   |   Submit URL or Your Company Address First Launched: 08/15/95 - Copyright © 2010 Cambodian Information Center. All rights reserved.