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Returnee debate

The Editor,

I am much amused by the remark made by 'one observer associated with Funcinpec dissidents'.

According to the observer you only fight back if you have your back against the wall

(Phnom Penh Post, Mar 22- April 4).

Whilst lashing out against some officials for their perceived opportunism, the observer

preferred to speak from behind his own wall of anonymity, a practice shared by Phnom

Penh's gossip circles in which MPs, diplomats and mysterious 'observers' have made

themselves famous by opting (wisely) to be unknown and unnamed.

Anyway, does anyone seriously believe that depriving the officials (who use their

high positions to amass personal fortunes) of their duel citizenship privilege would

render them less self-seeking and more in tune with the plight of their less fortunate


The rumored campaign to force returnees to give up one passport in favor of keeping

the other is yet another predictable scheme conceived in a mind governed by nothing

less than Machiavellian paranoia.

Having sought to suppress all conceivable forms of liberal democratic expressions

- from the freedom to stage peaceful demonstrations to the use of issues of foreign

language newspapers in the classroom - I am not impressed by the CPP's latest desire

to block off opposition or potential opposition and harmful influence emanating from

distant sources (see Vietnam's current campaign to stamp out "cultural pollution")

which could over time help to undermine existing power arrangements.

Jason Barber is right to point out that there is a "those who left and those

who stayed behind" attitude to the Vietnamese occupation - something the CPP

leadership has tried (unsuccessfully) to make political capital out of.

"We have always remained in the country" they insist, despite the fact

that most of them had spent the greater part of their lives in exile in Vietnam,

many since the fifties, and only returned following the Vietnamese invasion to nominally

occupy the vacuum left by the Khmer Rouge's departure from power.

One difference between the CPP returnees and their Funcinpec counterparts is that

the former do not carry foreign passports. But this is less to do with any self-proclaimed

patriotism than with the circumstances of their exile.

Hanoi has always been anxious to play host to troubled but aspiring young 'Cambodian

brothers' who would someday prove to be ideal instruments by which to advance its


It was these brothers who would later sign away chunks of the eastern provinces to

Vietnam and who currently remain embarrassingly silent over the border issue.

The bulk of the overseas Khmers are just ordinary people who only want the best for

their family and ancestral homeland. The Khmer exodus, like the Jewish one, was not

a planned or deliberate historical occurrence.

If anything you will find hints through out the Old Testament that exile can be a

most agonizing experience for those who have to go through it.

And perhaps, arguably, the international community's most meaningful contribution

to Cambodia's long-term social development (a concern of all quarters) has been role

it plays as host to thousands of refugees, the more productive among whom are the

younger generations less touched by the war and the philistine effect it often has

on men.

Let us hope then that liberality and the sanctity of truth prevail over cynicism

and hypocrisy. Or is this too much to ask ?
- Marith Pen, London.



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