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Troubling conjunctions

Dear Editor,

In the last couple of weeks we have seen a conjunction of episodes, the possible

interrelation of which points, if they are indeed interrelated, in a troubling direction.

There was the CFF shootout with its overt US linkages admitted both by participants

here and by their leaders and supporters there, the prestige-enhancing entertainment

of a US-based CFF figure by the National Press Club in Washington (Newsweek, December

18, 2000 "Cambodia: Fighting for Justice?", By Adam Piore, with Kevin Doyle

in Phnom Penh), sympathetic coverage on Radio Free Asia; and their announced purpose

to disrupt good relations with Vietnam just when a new newspaper named "Cochinchina"

began spewing out the worst sort of anti-Vietnamese racism and a certain politician

tried to provoke an incident on the border with Vietnam.

Saddest, but not surprising, was the knee-jerk reaction of so-called Human Rights

organizations, both here and in Washington, against the Cambodian government for

proceeding energetically to neutralize the terrorists. The measures were "directed

against opposition figures" they say. Well, who else were likely to be among

the CFF anyway - certainly not Hun Sen loyalists?

It may also not be strictly coincidental that all of this happened just when it looked

like the US was going to have President Dubya as new Dear Leader.

Right-wing Cambodians both here and there had already proclaimed support for him,

and in fact their hopes may be well-founded. Under him it will not be surprising

if US Cambodia policy returns to the Cold War mode of the first Bush regime.

Finally, and also not surprisingly, an Asian Wall Street Journal article of 12 December,

retransmitted to all of us here by Cam Clips e-mail, sounded off with a wild screed

by the International Republican Institute which was nothing but a rehash of the propaganda

of a certain local political faction. And it included - of course, they are Republicans

- a plea for Bush regime II to make a sharp shift in policy toward Cambodia.

I shall not waste time trying to argue against it in detail, for the background of

the IRI is such that it discredits a priori whatever they say about promoting democracy,

human rights, or justice. Their denunciation of the 1998 election is laughable. Observers,

including at first, as I recall, the IRI people on site, generally saw it as much

better than the UNTAC intervention of 1993. I was happy to note however that "the

U.S. State Department does not recognize [Hun Sen's 1997 coup] as such", since

I know of five western ambassadors who do not accept that those events were a Hun

Sen coup.

We might note briefly that their demand for a complete change in KR trial preparation

is contradictory. It should be conducted outside the country, they say, yet "the

process for formulating a tribunal should be open and inclusive to Cambodian civil

society", the last no doubt defined as those Cambodians wealthy and influential

enough to travel to Europe to help organize the type of show trial desired.

The IRI, and all others who insist Cambodia must have the kind of trial foreigners

want regardless of its effects on Cambodian society, need to be reminded that the

first amnesty, de facto, for the Khmer Rouge was issued by the international community

in the 1991 Paris agreement when they wanted the KR on side to help overthrow the

government of Hun Sen and the CPP. Had the UNTAC game plan for Cambodia been realized

as intended, we might see Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, and, who knows,

even Ta Mok, sitting in the National Assembly. Where would the genocide careerists

and human rights groupies be with their trial if such had come to pass?

Even if everything in the IRI statement were true and uncontroversial as stated,

the IRI are hardly the people to make these complaints. Their "democracy-building"

and human rights records are tainted and should exclude them from any influential

role in Cambodia or anywhere else. In 1993 they came to Cambodia as a USAID-supported

education for democracy group, and as a teaching tool they imported Raul Garcia Prieto,

vice-president of the ARENA Party of El Salvador, just about the time the UN report

on human rights in El Salvador was published, confirming that ARENA was mainly responsible

for the death squads and massacres during the civil war in El Salvador. Another of

their democracy-teaching crew was a Pinochetist Chilean, although he was not a high-profile

type like Prieto. In mitigation, I must acknowledge that when I interviewed them

they seemed to be so politically immature (I almost used another word beginning with

'd') that they did not even realize their gaffe. They averred that Prieto was a "charming

fellow", and, with a straight face, that he was able to "tell Cambodians

about the organization of elections in the midst of violence". So far as I know,

not a single democracy-loving journalist, even after the story was virtually forced

down their throats, tried to bring it to the wide international attention it deserved,

and not the slightest peep of objection was heard from any UN agency, let alone the

Human Rights Component.

El Salvador under ARENA was the type of US-friendly fascist regime the IRI likes

- 'Free World' free market capitalists with their Tuol Sleng equivalents, as evoked

in the measured remarks by Philip Short (PPP 9/25, p. 13) against Henri's howling

harrowing hysterics (PPP 9/24, p.12). We might also consider whether IRI favors certain

Cambodians because they are convinced their heroes would institute ARENA-type El

Salvadorism here.

I might add that IRI was not the only U.S. organization who wished to bring U.S.-style

Central American politics to Cambodia. Asia Watch, before negotiations reached the

Paris stage, was advocating implementation of the US Nicaragua strategy (condemned

on one count by the World Court) to effect the same results in Cambodia (See Sidney

Jones, "War and Human Rights in Cambodia", New York Review of Books, 19

July 1990, pp. 15, ff.).

- Michael Vickery Phnom Penh



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