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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Implications of ban not yet apparent

Implications of ban not yet apparent

Implications of ban not yet apparent

T HE KHMER Rouge have been "outlawed". What happens next? What are the practical

consequences of outlawing them?

Part of the answer lies in the text

itself. The terms of the law have been softened and protections have been

added.

A very strongly worded draft was modified to include explicit

penalties for use of the law against innocent parties.

The modified

draft also reiterated the King's constitutional power to give full and or

partial pardon to those charged under law, and it extended the amnesty period

from two to six months.

However there was little discussion in the

National Assembly debate about how the law was to be implemented by the

government. Further, the government has issued no instructions to the army or

police as to how to implement the law.

There is no evidence the law is

the first move in a coordinated and concerted campaign to locate, arrest and

incarcerate KR. In fact, this may be beyond the capability of the Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces and police.

A diplomatic observer said: "In many

areas the Khmer Rouge are well known, but no one has made any move yet. Why

should we think the law will change this?

"There are all sorts of

accommodations that have been made between the Khmer Rouge and the local

authorities, and between the Khmer Rouge and the local people, out of mutual

interest and out of fear. It is unlikely that this will change with the passage

of this law."

Another observer described the RCAF as follows: "Everyone

is cooking their own little meal, in their own little pot, over their own little

fire, in their own little corner."

He said he meant by this that the

army consists of small groups of men scattered across the country preoccupied

with their own local concerns.

To mobilize them to take concerted action

against the KR will be next to impossible he believes.

But the government

could use the law to hurt the KR by trying to confiscate KR assets held in Thai

banks.

Co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he thought the

government would do this in an interview outside parliament after the law was

passed.  

When the proposal was presented in the National Assembly it was

argued that it would make it more difficult for the Thais to protect and make

business deals with the KR.

Will the law affect people who make business

dealings with the KR? A government official said: "It may be a deterrent to the

larger deals between foreign investors and the Khmer Rouge. But it is unlikely

to affect the arrangements that exist between elements in the army, provincial

leaders and the Khmer Rouge."

Some people question whether the Cambodian

people want a new round of confrontation. They also believe the law will have

the effect of stifling dissent and criticism of the government.

The

Venerable Yos Huot said: "What the people want is peace. If this law brings

peace that is good. But we will continue to say what we need to say. We will not

be deterred by this law."

A foreign worker said: "The government has

taken a stand, one that will be difficult to back down from. But the Cambodian

people are sick of the war and violence.

"They are, I think, willing to

compromise. But for the leadership who claims to speak on their behalf there is

no compromise.

"If there had been a secret vote [on the bill in the

National Assembly] we might have seen dissent that could not be openly

expressed."

Cassie Nieu, the Director of the Khmer Institute of Human

Rights, said: "The law reduces the chances of reconciliation, though it may

improve the chances of national security.

"But I am not trying to

second-guess the government, I am speaking as an advocate of peace, someone who

prefers non-violence to muscle in resolving conflicts. I personally believe we

should have remained patient and continued negotiations."

A member of the

government said: "Outlawing the Khmer Rouge will not by itself solve the

problem. We need to find ways to isolate them diplomatically and militarily.

"The law needs to be complemented by a package of instruments. But the

government has eliminated the possibility of Khmer Rouge

self-legalization."

Joan Anderson, of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said aid

groups have not yet formed a collective opinion on the bill.

She said:

"My own view is that everything depends on how the law is implemented. The

concrete effect on the NGOs will be that they will be less likely to go into

areas where there is a Khmer Rouge presence.

"In the past we have been

able, with great difficulty, to build bridges through intermediaries to help

Cambodians that we could not otherwise aid.

"We are likely to be more

reluctant to do this in the future. In principle we want to help all Cambodians,

this law will make that more difficult.

"The Forum has taken the position

in the past that the top KR leadership from the 1970's should never be part of

the government.

"But we recognize that the majority of Cambodians prefer

negotiation to confrontation. But the Khmer Rouge have not shown their

willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace.

"In the

last offensive NGOs found government soldiers looting from project sites, and

many NGOs had to start back from ground zero."

Liz Berstein, who works

for Ponleu Khmer NGO, fears the law may be abused. She said: "We were in the

Battambang hospital after the peace march, visiting the wounded. We heard a lot

of complaints among soldiers about forced recruitment and the extortion that

accompanied it.

"One soldier told of another threatening to denounce him

as a Khmer Rouge unless he paid him money. I wonder how many more incidents like

this we will find now that the law is passed."

Anderson said: "While

understanding the government's wish to take a stand on this issue, we still

worry about human rights abuses, the kinds of accusations that have been made

quite widely."

As the Post went to press there were still question marks

concerning the bill officially becoming law because King Sihanouk, as Head of

State, has refused to sign the bill promulgating it.

Under the

Constitution, bills may only be promulgated by the Head of State. However the

King is not totally blocking the law. He has faxed the National Assembly

requesting the Constitution be amended so that Chairman of the National Assembly

Chea Sim can sign the bill as acting Head of State. Amendments to the

Constitution require a two thirds majority.

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