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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Worthy experiment

Worthy experiment

The Editor,

Recent Cambodian history appears vastly gloomy and dreadfully

ill-fated as a result of its people's tug of power and foreign interference,

especially since the illegal coup d'etat in early 1970.

All those

politicians - regardless of where their ideological inclination and political

loyalty lies - who are accountable for waging war for the last few decades,

constantly maintain and hail themselves as "parties" yet none have admitted to

committing unpartriotic acitivities or shortcomings against the nation, even if

some of them have, in fact, killed millions of Cambodians.

Lon Nol

overthrew King Sihanouk's Sangkum Reastr Niyum in March 18, 1970 in a bid, he

said, to end problems with Vietnam and to increase development projects with

American companies.

The pro-American regime was toppled in April 17, 1975

by the Khmer Rouge-led national liberation movement. The victory, at the time,

was enthusiastically welcomed by Cambodian people, hoping for peace and freedom.

That hope lasted only three days. Pol Pot's terrible order was to "kill off

whomever objects to Angkar's command". There was no French, American or

Vietnamese invasion, no intervention from neighboring countries, no foreign

media.

But what do you think about heaps of bleached Khmer skulls and

bones scattered around the country and a destruction of the nation's

interests?

Heng Samrin who was deputy chief of staff of the Eastern

Military Zone of Democratic Kampuchea until 1978 - the time of his defection and

rebellion to form a Cambodian National Liberation Front, a movement totally

backed and supported by Vietnam - with his stalwarts such as Chea Sim, Pen

Sovann and Hun Sen. They dispelled Pol Pot's reign of terror and installed the

People's Republic of Cambodia Government under close command and supervision

from Vietnamese experts.

I have never heard anyone talking about human

rights violations or free expression at that time because rights abuses were

routine and freedom to speak out non-existent.

At the onset, Vietnam

seemed to come here to help the people and we were then quite grateful and full

of passion for their presence because they gave us a new lease of life. After

few years their presence become boring and they eventually outstayed their

welcome. People realized that their help was strictly and enormously attached by

formidable conditions which were completely unacceptable.

Hun Sen, the

most meteoric official of the Cambodian People's Party, is known to move with

the times and he gained considerable success in his tenure, including solving

Cambodia's two-decade long civil war through peace negotiations sponsored by the

international community and the United Nations.

The non-existent press

freedom in the 1980s were not surprising because the de-facto government wasn't

internationally recognised except by a few communist states and the Soviet bloc.

A person who spoke out about government policies would be politically interned

or would mysteriously disappear because the government's strategy was to prevent

the Khmer Rouge and other resistance groups from wresting state

power.

The United Nations decided to help "build" democracy (a government

that allows freedom of expression, religion, political opinion, that respects

human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, that upholds the rule of law

and makes decisions in accordance with the majority of people or through their

elected representatives) in Cambodia with agreement from the four warring

parties. For Cambodians, that was the time when they could cheerfully look at

"democracy" looming on the horizon. Privately-owned news media mushroomed in the

city and later on about 20 political parties were officially registered with

UNTAC.

UNTAC organized the first free and fair general elections which

resulted in the present Royal Government headed by twin premiers. However, it

failed to control the former State of Cambodia's key five ministries or push the

Khmer Rouge to lay down their arms and join the election.

With this

generous aid, democracy in Cambodia - even though still very bad compared with

other stable countries - is seen changing and progressing a great deal compared

with the past two decades.

Of course, it is not all good or admirable

but it is acceptable for us who have never tried such an experience before. The

major donor countries "are not satisfied with Cambodian democracy" because it is

too unlike their own. But we Cambodians believe this is the first step and it

will improve over time. We are optimistic even if others aren't.

Before

UNTAC, we didn't know what democracy would be; now we can have our say and we

optimistically expect the government to try their utmost to improve its

performance in all fields, zeroing in on graft busting, freedom of expression,

law enforcement and other relavant issues to make our fledgling democracy

stronger so as not to disappoint our respectful aid donor countries.

May

government flaws be lessened and democracy go ahead!

- Name withheld on request, Phnom Penh.

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