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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia 1995 - the news in review

Cambodia 1995 - the news in review


THE year begins with bickering and distrust among politicians, press crack-downs, illegal logging controversies and heroin: 1995 kicked-off like it would continue and end.

King Sihanouk flew home after six months in China for cancer treatment, his return prompting BLDP leader Son Sann to offer him "all powers necessary" to achieve national reconciliation. Premiers Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh were quick to denounce, in CPP's words, such "...adventurous politics..." that could be a "...fatal danger for history...". To date BLDP had barely been able to camouflage an historical rift between Son Sann and deputy Ieng Mouly; it just got worse, and would eventually be the political nadir of '95.

Ranariddh makes a private comment about Sam Rainsy's wife Saumura becoming a widow. Ranariddh later says he was only joking and it was no threat. Rainsy chooses not to attend the 1995 Budget vote in the National Assembly after being asked "very kindly, very gently...but very insistently" not to by Ranariddh. Former Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh - who had resigned in protest at Rainsy's sacking as Finance Minister last year - shaves his head and becomes a monk for a bit.

American Susan Haddon and her Khmer guide Vun Thy are shot and killed on the way to Banteay Srei temple. Haddon's husband is seriously wounded.

Four Africans are arrested on charges of smuggling heroin.

Two newspapers are sued for defamatory articles, while debate continues - as it would for months - on harsh provisions, including criminal sanctions, of the new press law.

"Ghost" civil servants are "exorcised"; locked up for lunch and counted.

The Khmer Rouge defector program is seen as a big success - 7,000 soldiers swapping sides since the beginning of 1994; and more than 1,000 this year till the amnesty ended on Jan. 15 (That amnesty later being indefinitely extended). The guerrillas respond on that day with a series of vicious attacks around Battambang province, driving 40,000 civilians from their homes and burning thousands of buildings. Pailin is cleared of civilians, though the expected Government push does not eventuate this year.


The Brits manage an entertaining sideshow, their Foreign Office freezing millions of dollars in aid fearing that difficult questions would be raised in their Parliament about the safety of British NGO workers. Local NGOs call the move "absolutely crazy" - and the Brit authorities move double quick to back down on their decision.

Sihanoukville's FUNCINPEC governor Thoam Bun Sron speaks out against CPP's continuing control of the provinces. "I can't even get a letter signed" without CPP's permission, he says.

King Sihanouk - who has been busy rejecting each and every call for his political return - says "I don't admire very much this current regime, but I accept it."

A senior, though publicly reticent KR defector, Kim Lemouth, paints a picture of a demoralized KR leadership lacking cash, ammunition and help from the Thais.

Ten people - eight men and two women, all claimed as former KR guerrillas or family - are arrested in Siem Reap for the Haddon murder.

Laotian loggers are fingered illegally felling trees on Cambodian soil. New Liberty News gets its turn before a judge for calling both Prime Ministers "the heads of the thieves."

USAID's Cambodian showpiece, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation Kien Khleang center, is audited about misuse of money.


Cambodian politicians go into receiving mode in the lead-up to the ICORC talks in Paris: Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Ranariddh say Cambodia still needs $229m to balance the budget to fight hunger and poverty; Hun Sen says that every country has problems with corruption and human rights, and warned donors not to link such problems with aid. ICORC donors are also expected to quiz Cambodia about the myriad of foreign contracts, specifically Malaysian ones, approved without reference to the National Assembly - something that maverick MP Sam Rainsy had been crusading against, earning the label "traitor". Contrary to speculation, Cambodia seems to get all the money it asks for (though pretty well nobody could make sense of the ICORC books).

British environmentalists Global Witness publish their first report alleging evidence of both Cambodian and Thai political and military complicity with the Khmer Rouge in huge-scale illegal logging.

Hun Sen and Ranariddh call on the UN to "phase out" the UN Center for Human Rights - a plan they discreetly shelve after howls of protest. The King is moved to speak on UNCHR's behalf.

The two Prime Ministers proudly get honorary doctorates from an unaccredited and unheard of American SCUPS correspondence university, degrees which the university boss admits are a promotional scheme.

$70,000 from a Hong Kong airport heist finds its way into the cash room of a Phnom Penh casino, smelling of dead fish. The money had been smuggled into town under a truck load of prahouk paste, and "laundered" at the casino.

Police crack down on the marijuana trade by warning sellers not "to sell too much" dope.

Two women - Pun Eth and Khav Sohka - enjoy their 15 minutes worth of fame after getting wed, apparently Cambodia's first same-sex marriage.


The US House of Representatives debate whether to grant Cambodia most favored nation trading status, a matter some people say should be linked with improved rights and freedoms. The House vote yes to MFN.

Dissident MPs Son Chhay and Kem Sohka reveal they have been consistently threatened, followed and warned about death threats in recent months.

Dry season fighting between Government and KR forces intensifies; IDP numbers grow. Six people, including a nun, are massacred by the Khmer Rouge at a Battambang pagoda.

MPs are reported supplementing their salaries by selling their "perk" licenses for importing duty-free cars. The licenses can fetch up to $8,000.

Cambodia welcomes Malaysia's Samling Corp as investors, and gives them a $110m, 787,000 hectare logging concession, 11 percent of the Cambodia's forestry total.

A group of French explorers claim to have found the source of the Mekong River, "a marshy field from which water was just oozing", 5,000 meters on a plateau between China and Tibet.


Maha Ghosananda's fourth Dhammayietra, or Peace March, begins quietly from Poipet, a town that had been regularly shelled by the KR in recent months, leaving 15 dead. The international march began in Auschwitz and ended at Hiroshima. 600 Khmers took part in the 600-km walk.

Prince Sisowath resigns as chairman of Royal Air Cambodge, which battled allegations for much of the early part of the year that it too was formed unconstitutionally. Cambodian Investment Board secretary general Vichit Ith takes over.

Sam Rainsy - sacked as Finance Minister last year - loses his FUNCINPEC party membership and is odds-on to lose his National Assembly seat.

New Liberty News follows its counterpart Voice of Khmer Youth into court. Youth editor Chan Ratana had weeks before been sentenced to one year in jail, though that was later commuted. In Kompong Cham, Colonel Sat Soeun is acquitted of murdering journalist Chan Dara last December.

The Naga floating casino opens its tables, part of Ariston's $1.3 billion deal to build an airport, roads, generating stations and a resort in Sihanoukville. Questions are asked about just when Ariston might hit town in Sihanoukville. Naga's "exclusive" casino rights in Phnom Penh don't last long. At least five casinos opened, shut and opened again reguarly during the year.


The Credit Bank of Cambodia (CBC) is disgraced, and drags the country's National Bank into the tangle in what was to be a rare look at Cambodia's fledgling banking system. The CBC ignored the National Bank's reporting demands, misrepresented its assets... and generally got tied up in some messy deals. National Bank governor Peng Leath maintains he has done no wrong, and avoids the chop.

Khmer Rouge defectors in Kampot, given jobs with the RCAF, swap sides again one night, kill high-ranking fellow defector So Suvan and escape into the jungle again back to their former masters.

KR defector Chuon Samnang is arrested and confesses to his part in the murders of Dominic Chappell, Kellie Wilkinson and Tina Dominy in April 1994. In late July he is sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The Mouly/Son Sann feud over at the BLDP headquarters finally explodes, splitting the party. The BLDP I and BLDP II show will continue to the year's end, growing increasingly - and violently - bitter.

Rainsy keeps battling for his Parliamentary place, backed by some international views (Michael Kirby, Inter-Parliamentary Union), but not others (Boutros Boutros-Ghali). He finally gets the boot on June 22 in a National Assembly session which lasts only minutes. MPs don't get to vote on his removal.

Former Australian ambassador John Holloway is called a pedophile under privilege in the Australian Parliament. Austrian Josef Schlik, 52, becomes the first Westerner convicted of engaging in under-age sex. At months end, police arrest British doctor Gavin Scott for similar charges.


Cambodia becomes an official observer at ASEAN.

The Scott circus begins. Of any incident in 1995, the debate surrounding Scott would divide the expat community more than any other. "Think of his rights," say some; "think of the children," say others.

Dengue fever reaches epidemic proportions around Cambodia; the mortality rate in Battambang hits 10 percent.

Ieng Mouly is elected head of the BLDP at a disputed party congress.

Rainsy's house guards are arrested, allegedly beaten in a military intelligence compound, and questioned on whether they have KR affiliations.

The National Assembly approves the much maligned Press Law - fines and jail terms for, among other reasons, "affecting national security and political stability." The King refuses to sign the law, so Assembly chairman Chea Sim does it while the King is away.


The BLDP dispute claims a life - MP Meas Chan Leap, 55, shoots himself dead inside the National Assembly building on the morning of August 8. Chan Leap could apparently no longer stand the divisions within his party.

Bulgarian diplomat's son Mitko Ivanov and Briton Greg James are shot off their motorbike and badly wounded by bodyguards of Hun Sen. A third Bulgarian, Braiko Zahov, is hurt in the crash; and a fourth man, Australian Iain Howartson, also had his bike shot from under him. The guards - none of whom were later named, questioned or reprimanded - edgy and on alert for "terrorists", widely identified as Ranariddh's bodyguards on unannounced maneuvers outside the city.

Sacked National police deputy Noun Seour says 600 kgs of heroin a week is being transshipped through Cambodia, a figure agreed by anti-drug chief Heng Peo. Seour says one of the reasons he was fired was because he wanted to go after the "high officials" controlling the narcotics trade. Meanwhile, three Africans are jailed for between five to ten years for heroin trafficking; and in Koh Kong, 71 kgs of heroin seized.

Indonesian company Macro Panin is awarded a 1.5 million hectare logging concession, almost double that of the previous largest concession given to Malaysia's Samling. Samling, meanwhile, say that half of the trees it had paid for in its concession have been chopped down by illegal loggers.

Phnom Penh hosts the first conference on genocide. There is much less support for a retrospective trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, rather for a "truth commission".

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher makes a milestone visit to Cambodia - for a day - en route to Vietnam. Phnom Penh police arrest "the balloon six" for tying anti-government messages to helium-filled balloons during Christopher's visit. They are to spend six weeks in T3 prison, before being released for lack of evidence, though Information Minister Ieng Mouly suggests they may have links with the Khmer Rouge.


BLDP leader Mouly and Co-Premier Hun Sen warn that Son Sann should not go ahead with his party congress, calling it illegal and predicting violence in the form of grenades.

Cambodia's export income is revealed: $140m of it is from gold and cigarettes brought into the country and then shipped straight out on the black market to neighbors.

Cambodian women participate in the International Womens Conference in Beijing.

Somebody throws a grenade into the offices of The Morning News newspaper. No-one is hurt. Editor Nguon Nuon blames a rival paper, which in turn says Nuon probably did it himself.

Ranariddh calls for the death penalty for murderers and drug traffickers, but later backs down after opposition from the King.


Son Sann goes ahead with his BLDP faction's party congress: two grenades are thrown from a motorbike, one in a pagoda housing Sann supporters and one at his headquarters. 35 are injured. Road blocks around Phnom Penh turn away Sann supporters, heavily-armed MPs clear the streets around the congress, and state media are told not to publicize the news. Ranariddh blames Son Sann, saying he ignored the signs. The authorities promise a full investigation; the bombers are, to date, still at large.

Thousands flock to Siem Reap to witness a total solar eclipse, the zenith of a year of efforts to attract tourists to Cambodia.

One of the King's oldest advisors, Nhiek Tioulong, says the government is unconstitutional because it has yet to set up the Constitutional Council.

Hun Sen says he and Ranariddh will be around till 2010.

Sam Rainsy announces the imminent formation of his new party, Khmer Nation.

One of Phnom Penh's richest, Teng Boonma, is elected president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Three truckloads of people sack the offices of the New Liberty News newspaper. Hun Sen says the crowd were just exercising their right to demonstrate and offered them the use of his trucks to come into town next time.

Gavin Scott is convicted and sentenced to two years jail, all but five months suspended.


Sam Rainsy chooses Nov 9 - Cambodia's Independence Day - to launch his new party. A thousand invited guests turn out, including several foreign ambassadors whose presence attracts the ire of Norodom Ranariddh. The government and Rainsy trade words over the legality of the party. It is revealed that one of Rainsy's party workers was murdered, apparently after being arrested by police, in Takeo.

Anti-Vietnamese groups are identified as operating in Phnom Penh, intent on brining down the Hanoi government. Authorities would move on suspects the following month, deporting six Vietnamese holding American passports.

VVAF and USAID are rapped by United States federal auditors: USAID for not doing its homework before giving money to VVAF, and VVAF for incurring $138,000 of questionable costs.

One prisoner in Kompong Speu died and most of the rest of the prison population falls sick with a host of diseases made worse by chronic malnutrition. Authorities had privatized the prison food contract.

Teng Boonma denies an international magazine's report that he is involved in the heroin trade.

Forget News hits the paper stands: a Khmer produced English-language paper that slags off foreigners, especially Australians. It is threatened with closure after three issues. Meanwhile, a score of newspapers generally critical of the government are forced to close because their printing houses will not accept their work.

The annual boat festival is held. Another undoubted success; 800,000 people pack Phnom Penh, thousands more in Siem Reap.

A huge development is planned for Siem Reap, including hotels and a sound and light show at the Bayon.

The political crisis of the year - the King's half-brother, Funcinpec Secretary-General and former Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirvudh is placed under house arrest for allegedly plotting to kill Hun Sen. Details of the "plot" were revealed in an article in the newly started Angkor Thmei newspaper. Author So Naro later says Sirivudh's private comments may have been a joke. Sirivudh is stripped of his Parliamentary immunity by unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rumor and threats to Sirivudh's life abound. He spends a few hours at T3 before being moved to the Ministry of Interior. Sirivudh maintains his innocence; most foreign observers seem to agree. The King reacts angrily to suggestions both he and FUNCINPEC are losing power, influence and, possibly, credibility. The King threatens to leave Cambodia, but changes his mind.


Hun Sen bluntly warns foreigners to keep their "sharp noses" out of Cambodia's "internal" affairs. Sirivudh is banished from the Kingdom - in a deal brokered between the King and Hun Sen - into exile in France.

The Interior Ministry writes to Sam Rainsy, banning his new party from opening offices until it is "officially recognized" by the government; that should take about a year to happen, comments co-Interior Minister You Hockry.

Cambodia wins two bronze medals at the South East Asian games in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Thousands of soldiers are reportedly stationed around Battambang, awaiting a round of dry season fighting with the KR.



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