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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Get it right, Mrs Kinnock

Get it right, Mrs Kinnock

121022_18
Young volunteers taking part in the Kingdom’s land-measurement program attend a ceremony on Diamond Island last week. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

This is a response by the Cambodian government to an opinion piece written by former Europoean parliamentarian Baroness Kinnock, an advisory-board member of the international NGO Global Witness.

Mrs Kinnock,

We have read your article on “Cambodia’s brazen UN bid” in the New York Times on October 16.

As you are a member of the Global Witness advisory board, your article can be expected to be negative, biased, exaggerated and full of lies.

It is so focused on a specific tree that it misses the entire forest. It is even more hypocritical, when written by someone of your stature, for the following reasons:

First of all, you should know that Cambodia is a democratic, open society,  not a dictatorial one, fully recognised by your peers in Britain, the European Union and the world. About 3,000 local and international NGOs operate freely nation-wide.

Second, whether Cambodia wins a UN Security Council seat is irrelevant. It has been a worthwhile endeavour for Cambodia to participate in the bidding process.

Cambodia is a worthy candidate and is praised by the international community for its active contribution to UN peacekeeping and de-mining operations in numerous countries.

Third, your accusation of an unprecedented land-grabbing crisis is an exaggeration. You seem ignorant of the fact that, with the help of 1,000 student volunteers, the Cambodian government is in the process of granting free and clear land titles to about 350,000 families, amounting to about 1.2 million hectares.

You should also come to Cambodia and talk to the hundreds of thousands of small rice and corn farmers who are busy exporting to neighbouring countries and the EU, improving their families’ well-being.

Fourth, you, of all people, should know that Cambodia has been the subject of external interference dating back to the colonial days and the US bombing that led to genocide. Where were you then?

Were the imperial masters, including Britain in countries such as India and South Africa, kind and non-violent then?

Fifth, in reference to the coup, you should check with your peers who were here in Cambodia endorsing the subsequent free and fair elections in 1998.

We admit Cambodia’s population has long suffered, but you should come and see the economic boom and the millions of people who have been liberated from the shackles of poverty. The government deserves some credit.

Look at your own society. Is it poverty-free? I doubt it. You should know, too, that the billions of dollars of aid that flowed into Cambodia went, for the most part, to feed the army of NGOs, including the one whose advisory board you sit on while enjoying its perks and writing this article on its behalf on your comfortable sofa in London as you drink a cappuccino, if not a martini.

Sixth, you talk about a social and environmental catastrophe. What catastrophe? Is it a crime for a government to develop and industrialise its own nation for the benefit of its people?

Do you really believe that a nation can get out of poverty by selling woven baskets to tourists? Did Britain, Europe or America get to be industrialised nations by planting potatoes or raising sheep in their back yard?

Perhaps you should objectively view your own country’s development history before preaching to other countries.

Seventh, as for welcoming President Obama and other world leaders to the East Asia Summit, how negative and deranged can you be?

Would you have dared say the same to your Prime Minister when his world-leader guests were coming to the Olympics?

Eighth, as to the evictions, you should study the land law or the civil code. Is there a country that could develop its infrastructure without exerting its power of eminent domain? There are due processes to follow, and not all evictees have legitimate rights.

Ninth, we do regret that the anecdotal accidents arising from the eviction process and the anti-logging activist happened. Investigations are ongoing.

Tenth, your claims that activists and ordinary citizens have been beaten and intimidated by the authorities are baseless and unsubstantiated.

The specific case of broadcaster Mam Sonando is subject to due process of the court, which we have to respect.

Eleventh, there is no chaos in Cambodia today, and there will be no chaos here in the future.

The economy is growing strongly, the people are benefiting from this economic development, and the government continues to invest in its own people, particularly in education and the social sector.

The government believes the people are its best assets and should be nurtured. The rule of law continues to be strengthened and upheld, and Rome was not built overnight.

In sum, Cambodia’s bid to the UN should be actively encouraged and endorsed by those who see a role for small and post-conflict countries that have tried to play a positive role in the community of nations.

Despite its own challenges, Cambodia has made generous contributions back to the world under the umbrella of the UN.

And we will continue to do what we believe is right, despite unfair criticism such as yours.

Kuoy Kong
Spokesperson and Under-Secretary of State

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation
Kingdom of Cambodia

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