Like the legless, levitating vampires who haunt the countryside with fangs bared and green viscera trailing, legions of bogeymen have haunted Cambodia’s political landscape since its competing leaders accepted their bids to the democracy dance in 1991.
But more so than the bloodsucking aps, who spawned an indigenous subgenre of horror films and left behind such irrefutable evidence as bite marks similar to those of paddy rats, the movements of the phantom armies often defy earthly laws of time and space, as well as belief.
Like much fiction, these tales of shadowy menace might be grounded in fact – the Khmer Rouge did once exist – but the narrators of this disjointed serial exhaust their audiences with repetition and brazen disconnects.
Always an outlaw rebel/terrorist group – Khmer Rouge, Khmer Serei, Cambodian Freedom Fighters, Sam Rainsy Party’s Committee 14. Always linked to a political opponent of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Always a narrative that doesn’t quite add up.
With Cambodia’s fourth national elections around the corner, the plot is again being recycled. Last month, at the behest of Hun Sen, the military launched another investigation into Sam Rainsy’s alleged involvement in the Cambodian Freedom Fighters and other terrorist activities.
The productions frequently include a finger-pointing face man, seemingly plucked from obscurity. Take July 26, 2004, when SRP defector Long Serey orchestrated taped “confessions” of alleged militants at state-run TVK’s studio.
Serey had earlier accused opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy of recruiting an illegal paramilitary branch of the opposition party. To support his charge, he directed filmed testimonies of men who did not know what they were supposed to say.
Frustrated, Serey reminded his visibly confused fellow rebels of the accusations and exhortations to levy and then had a technician splice in their additional hand-held, half-hearted testimony.
The alleged rebel group turned out to be Committee 14, a department of the opposition party’s watchdog shadow government – pencil pushers reporting on crimes carried out by the government’s security forces.
As for Cheam Channy, after much domestic and international outcry and the issuance of a royal pardon, he emerged from more than a year of military lock-up, no longer an outspoken critic of the Hun Sen administration.
And Serey has resurfaced as head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association for Comfort and Development.
“We consider him a spy,” Ang Chanrith, director of the better known Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, said on July 9.
“He doesn’t help the Khmer Krom. He stays quiet and collects information from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom advocacy groups.”
Going back to the most recent allegations of terrorism leveled at Sam Rainsy – again, the accuser is an SRP defector, Leuk Bunhean. He is known to have fled to Bangkok after being arrested, allegedly for opposition party activism, in Oddar Meanchey province in 2001. In Bangkok, he sought political asylum through the UNHCR, but was denied.
According to a Cambodian national who knew Bunhean in Bangkok at the time, “He was not normal like other political asylum seekers…. He went back and forth from Cambodia to Thailand,” an uncommon practice among those fleeing persecution at home.
Among Bunhean’s accusations, aired last month by TVK, is the claim that Sam Rainsy, in alliance with Funcinpec, launched a 1997 coup against the CPP. Again, Leuk Bunhean: “On July 5 and 6, 1997, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party made a coup against the CPP.”
The most casual observer of Cambodian politics remembers that the bloody coup and ensuing executions of 1997 were carried out by Hun Sen’s faction of the CPP against then-first prime minister and Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Which begs the question: Why, when Hun Sen is expected to thoroughly dominate the July 27 polls, flagrantly practice the dark of art of political intimidation?
Several ruling party insiders nervously commented to the Post on condition of anonymity.
“To scare the voters, the same as ghosts. You make them a little scared and you use the voters,” explained one official.
“This is just making noises. Nothing will happen…. Hun Sen is going to gain more respect and recognition in the international community five years from now, when he has the oil revenue. Then Hun Sen will do good things, and the people will forget about the past.”
Others, CPP officials in the security forces, described Hun Sen’s tactics as the survival instincts of a strongman.
“Hun Sen can do anything he wants. If he wants to split any party or make accusations, he can do it. If another politician wants to accuse Hun Sen of anything, Hun Sen will put him in jail. The strongman is always right,” an official said.
And another official: “Hun Sen always has the strategy to split other parties and make them weaker. The politician always tries to make himself stronger. If you want to be a politician, you must dare to do everything. For the simple people, they don’t do anything to harm anyone, but, for the politician, we must do it.”
Apparently, the more one gets away with, the more muscle one exhibits.