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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CIDA plan slammed for political bias

CIDA plan slammed for political bias

The choice of former Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir to head a Canadian-funded

"legislative support" project has provoked a storm of protest due to Longmuir's

alleged political partiality and disregard for human rights abuses during his diplomatic

tenure in Cambodia.

Longmuir, Canadian Ambassador from 1996-1999, is the in-country field director of

a five-year, $3.25 million dollar Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

project designed to boost the capacity of the National Assembly and Senate. He is

in Phnom Penh liasing with government officials on the project details.

Longmuir was hired by the Parliamentary Center, a Canadian NGO contracted by CIDA

to implement the project with the University of Victoria's Institute for Dispute

resolution and Center for Asia Pacific Initiatives.

Opposition legislators, human rights workers and representatives of civil society

say that Longmuir's consistent support for the CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen, his

hostility to Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh and opposition leader Sam Rainsy,

and his refusal to address human rights abuses linked to the CPP make him unworthy

of the high profile position.

"My feeling is that [Longmuir] has sold his soul to Hun Sen...like many other

diplomats here he's succumbed to the 'virus of the Strongman', a respect and admiration

for [Hun Sen]," said SRP legislator Tioulong Saumura regarding why Longmuir

was an inappropriate choice for the CIDA project. "He can affect the integrity

of the [legislative support] process...in how the project's money is spent, for example.

If he decides to spend the money proportionally, the CPP [legislators] will get the

largest share."

Saumura describes Longmuir's pro-CPP stance as a calculated attempt to better his

post-retirement chances for a Cambodian government advisory position

Her suspicions regarding Longmuir's motivations were confirmed, she says, in an encounter

with his wife following a "very aggressive discussion" between herself

and Longmuir regarding his conduct during the 1998 election.

"Longmuir's wife approached me and said 'Don't be mad at my husband, he loves

Cambodia and his only dream is to retire to a villa in Kep'," Saumura recalled.

"I thought 'My God, [Longmuir's] near the end of his career and he's looking

for a new position, a golden position in Cambodia like [former Australian diplomats]

Tony Kevin and John Holloway."

A former western diplomat who worked closely with Longmuir in the aftermath of the

1997 coup expressed dismay at Longmuir's return to Cambodian public life in light

of what he perceived as Longmuir's "blatant partiality" to the ruling CPP.

"...the appointment of Gordon Longmuir is inexplicable as no diplomat did more

to support the 1997 coup, which made a mockery of the publicly elected National Assembly,"

the diplomat told the Post. "Longmuir so despised Prince Ranariddh that he made

it clear he was overjoyed with this outcome and immediately convinced the Canadian

government to fund an election advisor to begin preparations for elections without

the participation of Prince Ranariddh. That he would now want to work with Ranariddh

is astonishing.".

Peter Schier, Country Representative of the Konrad Adenaur Foundation between 1994-1999,

worked closely with Longmuir on the 1998 elections and confirmed his pro-CPP bias.

"Already in 1996, [Longmuir] told me that it would be idealistic to believe

that the planned elections could be truly free and fair [but] on my insistence he

agreed that we westerners should try our utmost to give the Khmer people the chance

to vote freely for a party or individual candidate of their own choice," Schier

told the Post by email.

"After the 1997 coup, the great majority of Phnom Penh's ambassadors had sided

with the CPP, especially Hun Sen...[Longmuir] clearly belonged to that group. Gordon

Longmuir was what we in Germany call a Realpolitiker, ie you act according to the

situation and your country's interest and not according to political principles [which]

only serve as a legitimizing sugar coating."

A former UN official, however, told the Post that Longmuir's "aggressive"

expressions of political partiality were highly personalized and went far beyond

the demands of realpolitik.

"When he was ambassador Longmuir never showed any interest in developing a functional

democracy. Even before the coup Longmuir missed no opportunity to disparage Prince

Ranariddh as an incompetent who had no right to govern, in spite of the fact that

his party won the 1993 election," the former UN official said.

"He also regularly demonized Sam Rainsy for standing up for the kind of rights

that Canadians consider to be inherent and fundamental. His visceral hatred of Ranariddh

and Rainsy makes it impossible to imagine that he can work with them effectively.

It also raises the question of why Ranariddh would want to work with him."

Those most concerned about Longmuir's appointment, however, are human rights workers

who were scandalized by Longmuir's reported tendency to turn a blind eye to the numerous

instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances following the 1997

coup.

"From very early on...Longmuir made it clear he was not willing to push human

rights issues [to the Cambodian government] and his excuse was he didn't want Cambodia

to get into a polarized Burma-like situation with regards to human rights,"

a former Cambodian human rights worker said. "People told him what was going

on and he believed it, but he wasn't prepared to do anything."

UN human rights workers also frequently clashed with Longmuir following the 1997

coup due to what they called his attempts to dilute their accounts of the human rights

abuses by CPP-aligned security forces.

"Longmuir spent a lot of time criticizing the UN human rights office for its

reports after the coup. He claimed that the [UN agency] had a political agenda, but

when asked to point to a single fact that was wrong in the reports he couldn't. But

he never denounced the killings in public to my knowledge or in any way distanced

himself from the CPP [even though] these were brutal executions not in battle but

in custody.

"The impression [among UN staff] was that [Longmuir] was protecting his own

position on the cocktail circuit. More important, he endorsed the unprincipled notion

that Cambodia needed a 'strongman' to sort its problems out and bring stability and

that Hun Sen was that man. So much for democracy."

While acknowledging Long-muir's "...close relationship with Hun Sen", Dr.

Lao Mong Hay, Executive Director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, defends Longmuir

for using that relationship as leverage to prevent further violence in the post-coup

period.

Executive Director of the Center for Social Development Chea Vannath, who attended

a briefing on the CIDA project on April 6, said that she was taking a "wait

and see" attitude regarding the suitability of Longmuir's involvement with the

project.

"From his past [behavior], I'm not sure [Longmuir's] the right person for the

position," Vannath said. "Whether he might have changed and thinks differently

in his new position and in a new job remains to be seen."

Repeated Post attempts to interview Gordon Longmuir regarding the allegations against

him were unsuccessful.

CIDA Senior Development Officer Liane Sauer admitted on April 5 that she had been

informed of Cambodian objections to Longmuir 18 months previously, but refused to

confirm whether or not that information had been forwarded to the Canadian NGO that

hired him. Sauer's promises to forward official CIDA comment on the matter prior

to Post deadline were not honored.

Nipa Banerjee, CIDA's Head of Aid for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, refused to comment

and asked the Post not to run any article about the controversy.

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