Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Monday, November 26, 2012

Obama finds Southeast Asia much tougher than he thought — Murray Hunter

NOV 25 — US President Barack Obama’s visits to both Thailand and Myanmar went symbolically well. He did all the right things in Thailand and in spite of all the reservations about Obama’s Myanmar visit, he may have sent all the right messages, particularly through the way the visit was orchestrated and his speech at Rangoon University where he talked strongly about inclusiveness. Local news reports in local papers warmly reported the visit.
However the same could not be said for his visit to Cambodia.
Like Myanmar, Obama’s trip to Cambodia was also criticised by some human rights activists. And probably it was a visit with more concerns because, unlike Myanmar’s Thein Sien who has started on a road of liberalisation and opening up to the world, Hun Sen is reluctant to carry out any major reform in the country.
Human rights watch published a list of numerous breaches of human rights in Cambodia over the last 20 years, forcing Obama’s hand to declare publicly that his visit to Cambodia was only to attend the ASEAN and East Asian Summits.

There are many reports that Obama’s meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen upon arrival in Cambodia was a very tense one. The Obama administration, although not Obama directly, had previously criticised Hun Sen for his human rights record, political intimidation, imprisonment of opposition leaders, forced expulsion of peasants from the land, and the failure to hold free and fair elections.
A report in The Cambodian Daily reported the meeting between the two leaders and gave a very different account to the version that Obama aides gave the media.
According to Reuters quoting US deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes the meeting was almost totally devoted to human rights, but speaking at a press conference after the meeting, the Cambodian Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon said that Obama had only raised human rights issues because of being asked to by US lawmakers.
Ahead of the meeting Obama was specifically urged to ask for a pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy so he could return to Cambodia without having to serve an 11 year jail sentence believed to be politically motivated. According to Prak Sokhon this matter was not brought up by Obama at all.
According to Prak Sokhon, Hun Sen did request that a US$400 million loan with interest given to the Lon Nol Government back in the 1970s be converted to 30 per cent of that amount with a 1 per cent interest rate, where the Cambodian government could spend the rest of the loan amount on education and cultural projects. Sohkon remarked that this request was met with silence by Obama.
Hun Sen is a long-time politician in the region seasoned by frequent criticism from other foreign leaders over the years. Obama is just another one of those leaders and Hun Sen may even outlast Obama in office. Cambodia receives aid from China, South Korea and even Vietnam with little in the way of conditions over the use of the funds or rhetoric about human rights, something he continually says publicly. Therefore Obama’s visit and statements to Hun Sen just went on deaf ears.
Consequently, the US pivot into Asia is unlikely to include Cambodia. It appears naval ship visits, joint military exercises, counter terrorism training, and cooperation on human trafficking over the last five years have done little to warm up US-Cambodian relations. On the contrary, Obama’s visit to Cambodia has benefitted Hun Sen who could bask in the photo and TV opportunities with the US President which were all displayed prominently on Cambodian television.
The ASEAN Summit once again failed to reach any consensus in regards to territorial sea disputes with China. The Philippines even lodged a formal protest against Cambodia accusing it of suppressing discussion on disputed territorial areas with Vietnam. No questions from the media were answered on these matters during the summit.
This was a good close-up and personal lesson for Obama on the difficulty of reaching agreement to act within the region. The President’s Asia pivot is necessary for the US to create free trade agreements so the economy can continue to grow and maintain a balance of power in the region vis a vis China.
If Obama’s time on the ground in Cambodia is an example of his effectiveness in achieving his Southeast Asian policy objectives, it’s going to be a tough road ahead. — The Jakarta Post
* The writer is an associate professor at University Malaysia Perlis, and the author of a number of books on agriculture, economics, and entrepreneurship.
This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sam Rainsy, the voice of the Cambodian opposition in exile

By Francois Bougon
Translated from French by Pok Peuk

From his exile in Paris, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the Cambodian opposition prepares himself for a quick return to Phnom Penh . For him, the death on 15 October 2012 of former king Norodom Sihanouk provides a perfect opportunity for the regime which sentenced him to twelve years in jail in 2010, to redeem its injustice. "In Asia, face saving is a must. There are situations that would allow some to save their honor," he argues from his apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

"Experience shows that there is always a solution, this is not a legal issue but a political one. Sihanouk's death will encourage the solution policy ," the former Minister of Economy and Finance of the Government of coalition between 1993 and 1994 weighs in. In 2006, Sam Rainsy was pardoned by the king after being sentenced to eighteen months in prison. This time, he sent letters to Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, and to Norodom Sihamoni, the king who is Sihanouk's son, to allow him to "see the face of the hero-king for one last time." The former king died in Beijing at 89 and his body was repatriated back to the Cambodian capital.

Relationships between Sam Rainsy’s family and Sihanouk illustrate the tragic history of the Kingdom of Cambodia during the 20th century. His father, Sam Sary, a French speaker and a Francophile just like Sihanouk, fought alongside the latter after the World War II in order to obtain independence from France for this small country wedged between two giants: Thailand and Vietnam. In 1954, Sam Sary was part of the Cambodian delegation to the Geneva Conference for peace in Indochina. Thanks to his tenacity, he made the kingdom – which was under French protectorate since the 19th century – able to assert its existence despite the strategic greed of the Superpowers which was willing to sacrifice it and despite the appetite of neighboring countries. However, the faithful Sam Sary, a high ranking official of the regime and Minister of Economy, Financial Affairs and Planning, started to break away and he became to the eyes of Sihanouk a "traitor to the nation" after he left in exile and became involved with the anticommunist "Khmer Serey" opposition movement. Sam Sary eventually would killed by his own allies. 

"The Banana Kingdom" 

Sam Sary’s family, including his son Rainsy, fell the downfall and they eventually left for France which became his adopted country. Rainsy, meaning "light" in Cambodian, was named in honor of Paris (known as the City of Light) and French philosophers from the 18th century, continued his high school study at the French Lycée Janson-de-Sailly [in Paris] and graduated from Sciences Po [Political Science University]. Following a stint as a Financial Analyst in a large bank, he finally tasted political action by getting involved with Cambodian refugees who fled the Khmer Rouge horror. During that time, he also became closer to Norodom Sihanouk. "He can blamed for a lot of things, but he has two qualities that explain Cambodian respect for him: his integrity and the fact that he has always fought for the independence of his country," Sam Rainsy explained about Sihanouk. 

After a brief stint at the head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in the coalition government between 1993 and 1994, Sam Rainsy then left to form the opposition and he never ceased to denounce Cambodia’s strongman, Hun Sen, who came to power since 1985. Hun Sen was a former Khmer Rouge soldier who switched to the Vietnamese which occupied Cambodia from 1979 to 1989. In 1991, the Paris Agreements was signed and it led to national reconciliation and political pluralism which, ironically, was never practiced. Sam Rainsy argued: "This is a Banana Kingdom led by a mafia state built around corruption, human trafficking and drug dealing. In order to hide the reality of a single party state, Hun Sen always made use of the monarchy." 

Nevertheless, for the opposition leader, the moment of truth beckons: the opposition is now united. His political party, the Sam Rainsy Party, and the Human Rights Party decided to merge for the general election in July 2013. "If we look at history of Eastern Europe, the opposition must be united to win, this is sine qua non condition before 2013." To lead the election campaign, Sam Rainsy expects to be physically present in Cambodia to challenge Hun Sen. 

1949: Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital 
1965: Left for France. 
1993-1994: Minister of Economy and Finance in the coalition government. 
1995: Formed the opposition movement.

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