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Lankan lament

Lankan lament

Dear Sir,

I wish to protest against the tendentious misinformation in John C. Brown's "Sri Lankan monks cement spiritual ties (PPP July 15-28, 1994, page 24).

A reasonable reader would assume that the language used by Brown to situate the Venerable Wipulasara's first visit to Cambodia, "more than 10 years ago", referred to the period around 1981-1983.

It is not true to state that at that time "houses were not inhabited ... there did not appear to be anyone in the city. Phnom Penh was like a ghost town".

Neither was it true that when "people saw a military truck, they would "run and hide". Nor, at that time, could the Venerable have seen that "bank notes were scattered on the ground like leaves" in front of the National Bank; and those who "saw no monks at all" could only have been blind.

In 1981, on my first visit to Cambodia after the DK period, when I observed a situation which falsifies the above noted statements, there was no problem in finding an English interpreter for people who had come to Cambodia as journalists or travelers, and someone with access to visit Heng Samrin, which I did not have, would have had an even easier time. The government would not have needed to "broadcast an appeal for someone who spoke English", nor would English speakers, in that situation, have been afraid.

The only time in the history of the PRK/SOC when the situation described by Wipulasara prevailed was in the first months of the new regime in 1979.

Even by 1980, when acquaintances of mine visited Cambodia, it was no longer true, and by 1981, the true situation compared to Wipulasara's story was as day to night.

Wipulasara's photo does not suggest that he is senile, and he must surely remember the year date of his first visit to Cambodia. Did he deliberately obfuscate in order to diminish the achievement of the PRK, or is the obfuscation Brown's, for obfuscation there certainly is?

I realize that Phnom Penh Post has renounced all pretension to be a reliable news organ in its eagerness to make anti-CPP propaganda, but still the carelessness in this article is surprising.

It is likely that Wipulasara's visit was really in 1979, and thus his impressions quite inaccurate with respect to subsequent years, for otherwise he could hardly observe that "on this visit it was wonderful to see how well Cambodia has recovered from those difficult days".

For those who saw Cambodia just ten years ago, the situation now, with rampant gun-carrying, traffic jams, prostitution, wealth gaps, and general social breakdown, represents a decline, and Wipulasara seems to project a quite un-monkly fascination for crude materialistic pretension, main characteristic of most of the development which differentiates 1994 from 1984.

On another tack, should the involvement of Sri Lankan monks in Cambodian Buddhism be welcomed, given their apparent fascination with crude capitalist materialism, and also given their equivocal record, as supporters of chauvinistic violence, in the ethnic civil war in their own country?

- Michael Vickery, Penang, Malaysia

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