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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - All eyes on the Paris ICORC meeting

All eyes on the Paris ICORC meeting

T HE financial reviews and pledges of the March 13-15 ICORC donor conference so

vital to Cambodia could be relegated to a Parisian sideshow by a recent swirl of

high-profile political events.

Last year Cambodia triumphed at ICORC,

getting pledges of nearly $900 million, and this year - the third since the

UNTAC-sponsored elections - it is after $295 million.

However, aid donors

due to assess Cambodia's democratic progress this year are just as likely to be

as distracted by the sensitive political and financial policy issues as the

international media will be.

Newspaper editor Chan Rottana - now facing a

year in jail - and maverick MP Sam Rainsy - who has virtually been accused of

economic treason - will both be in Paris.

Amnesty International will

release a blistering condemnation of the government's human rights record on the

day the conference proper begins, which has been obtained by the Post.

Rainsy, voted the country's second most popular politician in a poll

last week, has unveiled a series of accusations of corruption and malfeasance

against the government.

The International Monetary Fund, during a high

level secret meeting last week, warned the government that their crucial stamp

of approval might be suspended unless Cambodia corrected violations of previous

financial agreements.

Such issues are not what the government wants

highlighted just when it is trying to convince the international community that

it's policies are on the right track. Australian ambassador Tony Kevin said:

"This year's meeting is more a performance review than a pledging

conference."

Rottana is now free on appeal after having been sentenced to

a years jail for publishing a "false and defamatory" article that "undermines

the peoples confidence in their leaders." The decision rocked human rights

organizations and Western donors.

Rottana said: "Of course, if I go to

jail, I will be a political prisoner. They are putting me in jail because they

don't like what I write."

Also in Paris will be Rainsy, who quietly

slipped out of Phnom Penh last week to attend - most definitely as an uninvited

guest - the ICORC meeting.

Senior government and diplomatic sources

confirm that the Cambodian government requested the French not to allow Rainsy

on their soil during the meeting. But Rainsy holds French citizenship. Sources

confirm that the French government compromised and received assurances from

Rainsy that he would refrain from speaking publicly while the conference is in

session. "I do not want to embarrass France, who are hosting ICORC," Rainsy said

in an interview from Paris with the Post, "but I will be able to talk before and

after."

Rainsy is holding press conferences and distributing tracts

detailing allegations of government malfeasance and pushing for the

international donor community to link the Cambodian government's performance to

international assistance.

Also in Paris, the Post has learned, Amnesty

International will release their annual human rights assessment of Cambodia to

pressure donors to link what they say is a decline in human rights with further

assistance.

The report concludes that "in the 18 months since the

government was formed, Amnesty International has noted a gradual erosion of the

positive human rights legacy" since the elections.

"Amnesty International

is increasingly concerned that the fundamental human rights and freedoms... are

being undermined," says the report. "Members of the armed forces and police are

able to impose their will on the civilian population with impunity, committing

acts of violence including deliberate and arbitrary killings and extra judicial

executions....the Cambodian authorities appear to lack the political will and

the ability to bring these violators to justice."

Amnesty slammed the

government for not only committing but covering up abuses and cracking down on

newspapers and human rights groups. "Publication of facts is not defamation.

Attempting to cover up human rights violations because it is politically

expedient to do so is a crime," it says.

As well, sources in Paris told

the Post that Cambodian expatriates and other organizations will hold

demonstrations during ICORC protesting human rights and other concerns. The

mother of French hostage Jean-Michel Braquet, who was murdered in October, is

planning on holding protests to embarrass the government to take further action

against the kidnappers and killers of her son.

Such events have not gone

unnoticed by the international donor community. US ambassador Charles Twining

said he was "shocked" by Rottana's jail sentence. Twining also said that

corruption "had a devastating impact on development, on society, on trust and

democracy. We the donor countries are inevitably thinking of this issue of

corruption and to the aid we contribute to those ends."

Rainsy is worried

about a post-ICORC crack-down by the government. "That is why I appeal again to

the world community not to give a blank check to the government."

Such

statements have enraged both Prime Ministers but particularly Hun Sen. "My

patience has run out. I am tired of being cursed," he said, defending Rottana's

jailing.

He implicitly accused Rainsy of treason: "We see that some

criticism is politically motivated and intended to topple the government.

Certain personalities who appeal to governments not to aid the nation - that is

not against the government, that is against the nation. If it is against the

nation that is too much. It will bring to death all the achievements of the

Paris agreements."

The Post has learned that in late February Hun Sen

asked his legal advisors to prepare to bring criminal charges against Rainsy for

"economic sabotage of the nation".

According to other government

sources, Hun Sen's legal advisors have concluded that "there are no technical

grounds" to charge Rainsy with treason.

In an interview from Paris on 7

March, Rainsy hit back at his critics and vowed to take legal action.

"

If Hun Sen files such a suit, I think I have a stronger suit against him,"

Rainsy said by telephone. "Deforestation, for giving territory to neighboring

countries to the detriment of Cambodia, for the creation of K-5 which caused

many people to die. If we talk about treason, I have a stronger case against Hun

Sen than he has. What I have written has never been against the nation, only to

help my country."

"If Hun Sen files a suit that I am a traitor then he

must give evidence. On this point I will fire back, I will counter attack. They

have defamed me. Conditionality of international aid does not mean suspension.

It implies better use of that aid. We should not give a blank check to a corrupt

regime. He is talking like a madman."

At a pre-ICORC press briefing

Finance Minister Kiet Chhon slammed Rainsy. " He prevents donor countries from

giving us aid. Who will suffer? Not only the government but the whole nation and

people. That is why I say he is undertaking some kind of political swindling by

raising all these issues," Keat Chhon said. "By making people confused he tries

to prevent donor countries from giving aid."

Rainsy vowed that he would

take legal action immediately upon his return against Kiet Chhon for his

remarks. " I read that Kiet Chhon said that I tried to do everything to suspend

international aid. I never have said it. I only talk about conditionality and

close monitoring. This is defamation. I will file a suit. It is a real

incitement to say that I work against the national interest. It is completely

untrue. I have a very good case."

On 27 Feb sources say that Hun Sen

partisans had organized a demonstration to March on Rainsy's house. Pro Hun Sen

demonstrators gathered in front of the national assembly and "condemned people

who spoke badly against Hun Sen."

According to Rainsy's wife, deputy head

of the National Bank Tioulong Samura, she dispatched people to purchase

megaphones to address the crowds.

She said she "confiscated weapons from

our security guards and gave instructions of no violence" as they prepared for

the pro-Hun Sen demonstrators who ultimately never arrived.

On 5 Jan, Hun

Sen said "there were many attempts at armed demonstration by the military and

police directed at the residence of personages who oppose the government. Those

personages are the ones who appeal to the United Sates of America and other

countries not to give aid to Cambodia because they think that this aid will not

end the war."

But Rainsy's efforts have not gone unnoticed among the

population. In a public opinion poll conducted by the Khmer Journalists

Association and released on 2 March, Rainsy was voted the second most popular

politician in the country behind Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh , but

well in front of Hun Sen. In Phnom Penh, Rainsy outpolled both, garnering more

than twice as much support as Hun Sen.

Also, last week the International

Monetary Fund quietly sent a high level delegation to Phnom Penh to warn the

government to address issues of corruption, erosion of central control of state

revenues, and other irregularities, according to senior government

sources.

On Thursday, 2 March, in a two day secret series of meetings,

the head of IMF's Asian division, Hubert Neiss, gave both Prime Ministers a

stern warning, according to senior government and diplomatic sources.

The IMF agreed to give six bi-annual installments of $US20 million to

Cambodia, the first installment having arrived in May 1994. But no money,

including a scheduled disbursement for December 1994, has since been

delivered.

Senior government sources say that the chief reason is that

the IMF is concerned that the removal of logging revenues has undermined the

government's commitment to a centralized revenue collection and

budget.

Furthermore, IMF legal experts are worried that the refusal of

the Prime Ministers to submit to the assembly contracts with financial

commitments, including those of IMF and other multilateral lending institutions

in addition to private investment, violates the Cambodian constitution.

"The IMF was afraid that they could be party to violating the

constitution," said one government source.

According to sources familiar

with the meeting, Neiss delivered a letter from the IMF head "requesting

clarification and corrective measures" for the concerns raised, particularly

over the removal of logging revenues from the central budget. " The message was

'If you do not take corrective measures, we will suspend aid', said a

source.

Hun Sen confirmed the meeting when he addressed an

anti-corruption conference on March 3. " I told the IMF if you want to cut

assistance because of some problems, that is your right.....but if the aid is

cut, chaos will come, inflation will rise," he said.

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