Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

IN SIGHT: Profile in Political Courage

Sam Rainsy, president of the Khmer Nation Party,
is carried away after a 30 March 1997 grenade attack
outside the National Assembly building.

Rainsy touring a flooded Cambodian
district several years ago. — GEORGE MCLEOD


In his turbulent political career, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has endured assassination attempts and death threats and has seen friends and colleagues killed

GEORGE MCLEOD
Source: http://www.bangkokpost.net/260807_Perspective/26Aug2007_pers04.php

From a crumbling office in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy put on a brave face when asked about his party's future. "We have doubled the votes we have previously collected," he said, referring to Cambodia's recent commune elections.

But in Cambodia's fragile democracy, few believe that Rainsy will ever win power, regardless of the popular vote. Independent observers say the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is tightening its grip in the country, allegedly through violence and intimidation.

In his turbulent political career, Rainsy has endured assassination attempts, death threats and has seen friends and colleagues killed.

Rainsy was also convicted of defamation in 2005 for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of instigating violent attacks on his supporters. He returned in 2006 from self-imposed exile and is now guarded in his criticisms of the government. "My return was a result of international pressure. The CPP has changed its strategy; it relies less on violence but more on tricks, but the result is the same," he said in an interview in Phnom Penh. With elections scheduled for next year, Rainsy warns that the CPP's "tricks" may prevent a fair ballot.

Rainsy rose to prominence as finance minister after Cambodia's first democratic elections in 1993. Then a member of the royalist FUNCINPEC Party, he introduced sweeping reforms to fight corruption and introduce a modern taxation and procurement system.

The reforms ruffled the feathers of the ruling CPP, and members of FUNCINPEC, and he was expelled from his position in 1994. Refusing to abandon politics, Rainsy formed his own party, the Khmer Nation Party, later renamed the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

Since then, the party has seen its support grow, but has endured threats and often violent attacks, say independent observers.

Human Rights Watch's Brad Adams said that numerous human rights violations against opposition supporters have been documented since 1993.

"Since (political) pluralism was brought in by the UN, hundreds of opposition party members and activists have been killed and not one person has been brought to justice for any of those killings," he said from London. "What you have in Cambodia is a one-party quasi-dictatorship," he said.

The first major attack on Rainsy happened in 1997 at a workers rally in Phnom Penh. At 8:20 a.m. on March 30, four grenades were lobbed into the crowd, apparently aimed at Rainsy. Rainsy was thrown to the ground by his bodyguards, one of whom was killed by the blasts. According to Amnesty International, a total of 19 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the blasts.

An Amnesty International report on the attack said that police at the scene did not help the wounded, and that two people who were alive in the immediate aftermath were left out in the sun, without help, and later died at the scene.

In July of the same year, Cambodia erupted in near civil war as the CPP and FUNCINPEC fought pitched battles throughout the country, resulting in a CPP victory.

Rainsy fled Cambodia, and many of his supporters went into hiding. Armed looters broke into the SRP headquarters and into Rainsy's house, gutting the buildings. He returned to a nearly shattered party - many SRP activists dead or having fled as refugees.

With elections scheduled for July 1998, Rainsy rapidly reorganised the party, mounting an effective campaign based on fighting corruption, alleviating poverty and defending workers' rights. Despite flaws in the voting process, the SRP secured 15 parliamentary seats. Rainsy also supported the emergence of Cambodia's first independent trade union, the Free Trade Union of Cambodia. The country's booming garment industry had attracted hoardes of what Rainsy calls "cowboy capitalists," who often profited from exploitative sweatshop labour. The union's president Chea Vichea was killed in 2004 - many believe the assassination was ordered by bodyguards of a senior government official.

Since Rainsy's return from exile, he has tirelessly worked to attract voters in the impoverished country. Campaigning in a rural country with poor infrastructure and rampant illiteracy carries unique challenges. Rainsy has to visit voters face to face, and nearly every day, he travels in a small convoy on Cambodia's dirt roads speaking to the masses.

It comes down to corruption

Rainsy's message is simple: corruption and mismanagement are holding back Cambodia - it is time for a change.

"There are two main issues: one is bad governance... The second is unemployment and poverty. Most of these problems come down to corruption," he said in Phnom Penh.

The international corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Cambodia near the bottom of its international index at 153 out of 163. Thailand is rated near the middle at 63.

Much of Cambodia's corruption involves alleged embezzlement of the more than $600 million in foreign aid the Cambodian government receives each year.

"(The donor money) has gone into the pockets of corrupt government officials," says Rainsy. "Cambodia is the bad conscious of the world, and the international community has spent a lot of money relieving its conscience," he said.

The depth of Cambodia's corruption was illustrated in June when the UK-based environmental watchdog Global Witness produced a report documenting illegal logging in Cambodia. Senior government figures close to the prime minister were identified as being behind multi-million dollar illegal logging syndicates. The report entitled Cambodia's Family Trees was banned by the Cambodian government and copies were seized.

Global Witness' Eleanor Nichol said the government also threatened its staff and prohibited them from visiting Cambodia. She said that the prime minister's brother Hun Neng was quoted saying he would "break the heads of any Global Witness official travelling to Cambodia."

"The issuing of death threats by a senior Cambodian official is absolutely unacceptable from any perspective," she said from London. Nichol believes that the government's reaction is part of a broader problem of authoritarianism in Cambodia. "Over the past 10 years we have seen a steady consolidation of power in the hands of an elite few, which has attracted remarkably little attention in the international community," she said.

Nichol added that Cambodia's opposition has faced immense challenges. "The space for the (Cambodian) opposition is steadily declining... (the opposition) is doing the best they can under the circumstances."

However, prominent author and expert on Cambodia objects to what he has called anti-Vietnamese tendencies within the Sam Rainsy Party.

"When speaking in Khmer (Rainsy's) remarks about [the] Vietnamese are racist," he wrote in an emailed response.

"And during the election campaign in 1993 one speech was so bad the UN ... would not let it be broadcast, even though they were on (Rainsy's) side... That is, they hoped FUNCINPEC, not CPP, would win," he wrote. Vickery's new book Cambodia: A Political Survey, argues that western governments and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch are driven by a Cold War-rooted prejudice against the Cambodian People's Party. The CPP was installed by the Vietnamese, and was seen throughout the 1980s as a pro-Hanoi puppet regime. Rainsy maintains that his remarks about Viet Nam address border-encroachment issues, and do not contain racist undertones.

Contact: georgemcleod@gmail.com

BIO DATA

Sam Rainsy was born in 1949 in Phnom Penh.

He moved to France in 1965, where he later ran a successful accounting firm.

Rainsy was active in opposing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, which lasted from 1979-1993. In 1989, he became the Royalist FUNCINPEC Party's European Representative.

After Cambodia's first democratic elections in 1993, Rainsy became Finance Minister, but was expelled from his position, and from the FUNCINPEC Party in 1994.

In 1995, Rainsy formed the Khmer Nation Party, later renamed the Sam Rainsy Party.

Rainsy has fled Cambodia twice for political reasons: once in 1997 and again in 2005.

He is married to Samura Tuolong, who is an elected Member of Parliament.

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Exchange between the CPP and King-Father on CACJE request to remove King-Father's immunity




Translated from Khmer by Socheata

Cambodian People Party (CPP)
Central Committee

Statement of the CPP

Recently, there is a publication of a number of evil information wanting to remove the immunity of the Hero-King Norodom Sihanouk, and the annulment of Article 7 of the Cambodian Constitution during the progress of the Extraordinary Chamber in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in order to judge the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime.

On this issue, the CPP publicly declared to the national and international community, the following:
  1. The CPP strongly condemns and rejects the intention described above which severely violates the constitution and the law of the Kingdom of Cambodia, with the aim of destroying the stability, the unity and the progress of the nation.
  2. The CPP always remembers the supreme good deed of Preah Karuna Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk who dedicated his body and knowledge to serve the people, the nation, and the homeland, and (the CPP) is strongly opposed to any actions that are contrary to the law to promulgate the royal title and prerogatives to the former monarch of the Kingdom of Cambodia and his wife, which the National Assembly ratified on 20 October 2004.
  3. The CPP supports the progress of the ECCC which operates under the Cambodian law to judge the criminal actions perpetrated during the DK regime based on the guarantee of peace, stability, national unity, national sovereignty, and justice for the people of Cambodia
The CPP maintains the goal of defending the Constitution, the realization of the national society for progress, and peace for the nation and the Cambodian people.

Phnom Penh, 24 August 2007

Permanent Committee

(Signed) Chea Sim

o----O----o
Norodom Sihanouk
of Cambodia

To Samdech Chea Sim,
CPP President

Highly respected and deeply loved Samdech President,

I am very moved and I am thanking you deeply for the statement dated 24 August 2007 issued by the CPP to provide justice for me in my service rendered to the nation and to the Cambodian people in front of our national history.

I am wishing Samdech President, and all the magnificent CPP members, with the five blessings.

Please Samdech President and Lok Chumteav Thom accept my highest respect, and my deepest love, as well as those from Queen-Mother.

(Signed) Norodom Sihanouk

Phnom Penh, 25 August, 2007

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Request for a Plenary Session Meeting of the National Assembly to Remove the Immunity of the Former Monarch


Unofficial translation from Khmer by Socheata

Cambodian Action Committee for Justice & Equity (CACJE)
451 Revere Beach Blvd, Revere, MA 02151, USA
Email: cac_je@yahoo.com, Tel: 401 451 8090
Spokesman and Representative to Cambodia: Mr. Nam Tara, Tel: (855-11) 918 009

20 August 2007

To: Samdech Heng Samrin, President of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Subject: Request for a plenary session meeting of the National Assembly to remove the immunity of the former Monarch, and to annul Article 7 of the Cambodian Constitution during the period of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal session.

Based on the request subject above, the Cambodian Action Committee for justice and Equity believes that the maintenance of the immunity for former Monarch, Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, and the enforcement of Article 7 of the Cambodian Constitution during the progress of the joint UN-Cambodian Tribunal to judge former Khmer Rouge leaders and those responsible in the Khmer Rouge regime, constitutes an obstacle preventing the ECCC investigation judges from performing their work according to justice standards, and also, this action does not provide equity to all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution stipulates: “… Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status.” Therefore, in their names as Cambodian citizens who are equal before the law, regardless of their social status, or other status, numerous documents and studies written by independent researchers have shown that Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, the former President of the GRUNK, and later the President of the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge), was an important individual among the public and secret individuals who were involved in the formation of the Khmer rouge movement, and the Khmer Rouge regime known all over the world as a genocide regime that unfairly killed more than 2 million Cambodian people.

In order to allow the freedom for the national and international co-judges to have sufficient rights, and they can use their own impartial judgments to issue warrants for suspects, witnesses, and victims to come and provide clarifications in front of the tribunal, and in order to guarantee the equity of the respective roles of the former Khmer rouge elders and those responsible, and especially, to apply the international law standards in the search for justice for the Cambodian people who were victims of the cruelty and inhuman actions (perpetrated against them), CACJE requests that the Cambodian National Assembly presided by you, Samdech President, consider the request above, and bring it up to the agenda of a plenary session of the National Assembly to discuss and approve.

I hope and trust that the importance of the provision of justice, allowing the victims to know the identity of the leaders involved in the killing of million of Cambodian people, will make the international community recognize the independence of the Cambodian National Assembly in its cooperation with the joint tribunal between the UN and Cambodia to successfully sentence the former Khmer Rouge leaders and those who bear high responsibility of this regime.

Please accept, Samdech, my respect.

(Signed) Serey Ratha Suon
CACJE Mission President

CC:
The King’s cabinet
Members of the Constitutional Council
Office of the Senate President
Office of the Prime Minister
Members of the National Assembly
National and International Media
Office of the spokesperson and representative of CACJE in Cambodia.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Commentary: Corruption surfaces in Cambodia housing fiasco


HONG KONG, Aug. 22
Column: Rule by Fear
On July 31, the Cambodian government sent a delegation of officials, ten excavators and over 100 workers under the protection of armed policemen to reclaim a site that once included Lake Kob Srov। Long Chhin (Cambodia) Investment Ltd. had filled in the lake in order to build a luxurious housing estate, called Long Chhin Resorts, 12 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh.

The government moved to reclaim the lake site following the expiry of a deadline for the company to dismantle its construction there. The government has claimed that the filling-in of that lake was illegal and that it needed to reclaim the site as the construction work on the estate would block the water flow in the area and cause floods in the capital, Phnom Penh.

In the presence of the government delegation and the company's representative, the excavators and workers tore down and demolished all construction on the estate, turning it into rubble in three days. The demolished structures included all the brick walls around the estate, all entrance porches, seven two-story apartment blocks, 21 finished villas, eight villas that were still under construction, three guesthouses, a karaoke hall, 10 leisure kiosks, a warehouse, an office building and other amenities.

A number of Cambodians have lost all their investments in the estate, having already bought villas and apartments from the company or made deposits on them. Suppliers of construction materials have also lost the money that the company owed them. The total losses suffered by house buyers and the company's creditors are estimated to amount to around US$20 million -- a huge sum in a poverty-ridden country. Thirty-seven house buyers and creditors have now filed separate suits against the company to get their money back.

The government has promised to help repay them if the company's assets are insufficient. The chance of them getting their money back from the company is very slim, as the company's now frozen bank account has a balance of only US$4,000 in credit. The owner of the company, Zhou Shi Min, a mainland Chinese man, has "disappeared" and is believed to have fled Cambodia. Not much can be recovered from the rubble that is left on the estate. It is highly unlikely that the government, which is cash-strapped and corrupt, will ever live up to its promises and repay those who have lost money.

The house buyers and the company's creditors will have to pay for the corruption in high places that allowed Long Chhin (Cambodia) Investment Ltd. to do business in housing development in Cambodia, dupe them into buying its houses and supplying construction materials on credit, and also to defy the government's order to dismantle the estate.

In a brochure published in 2005 to attract buyers for its houses and apartments, the company claimed it had purchased the land in that area in 1993, that it had received authorization for development in the area from Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodia Development Council in 2004, and that Zhu Shi Min had relations with Cambodian and Chinese leaders. As proof of these relations and the support they entailed, the brochure showed photos of Zhu shaking hands with or standing beside Cambodian leaders, as well as autographs provided by Cambodian and Chinese leaders.

The government has acknowledged that it had given authorization "in principle" for housing development on "28 hectares" in the area, "subject to a set of conditions" including the need for the company to get permission from relevant departments and for it not to affect the water flow in the area. However, the government has accused the company of filling in "hundreds of hectares" of the lake.

Just days before the demolition took place, the government sacked the governor and two deputy governors of Kandal province, as well as the governors of the two districts in which the lake is located, for their involvement in the Long Chhin Resorts project. Two weeks before the demolition, one of these district governors, Tep Sothy, was quoted by a newspaper as saying that Long Chhin Resorts "had followed the law" and had permission from the government for its construction project.

The government officials who had authorized and supported the development at the lake site, whether in principle or by giving definitive approval to the project, have violated the country's Constitution and land law, which classify lakes as being inalienable public property. Any such violation is punishable by a fine between 5 and 50 million riels (between around US$1,250 and US$12,500) and/or one to five years imprisonment. Those responsible should be prosecuted and made to repay the house buyers and creditors.

However, Zhu Shi Min's disappearance has rendered difficult any public action against the government officials in question. Zhu is the cases' key witness and is also charged with the crimes of fraud and the destruction of public property. It is quite legitimate to suspect that Zhu may have been deliberately helped to "disappear" by those seeking to avoid legal action being taken against them.

--

(Lao Mong Hay is currently a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously the director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

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