I took exception to your March 2 article, "Patriot Games: Inside the Student Movement." The hard work of legitimate pro-democracy student activists should be recognized, and the tactics and motivation of groups like the "Pagoda Boys" should be exposed.
However, I was puzzled by your characterization of the International Republican Institute's (IRI) relationship with Cambodian student groups.
IRI takes the view that students can play a valuable role in holding the government accountable for its actions, and many students in Cambodia have demonstrated that they are committed to this on a range of issues. There are many divisive pressures on student groups and those that are interested in promoting democracy and good governance will be more effective if they work together on issues of mutual concern. For this reason, IRI staff regularly facilitate dialogue among student leaders.
Through civic education for student groups on the topics of democracy and advocacy (including fundraising), IRI does encourage student activists to refrain from violence and inappropriate rhetoric when articulating their messages. IRI does not, as intimated in your article, tell students what their message should or should not be, and does not provide financial support to student groups, so they are under no obligation to accept our advice.
Finally, IRI is a nonprofit, nongovernment, nonpartisan oraginization and is not a part of the U.S. Republican Party.
I hope that IRI's relationship with student leaders does have a positive effect on the student movement, but the sweeping generalizations of the article are quite a stretch.
- Tim Johnson, Program Officer for Cambodia International Republican Institute