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
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.