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Discordant birthday

Discordant birthday

The Paris Peace Accords, the agreement signed by Cambodia's four warring factions

in 1991, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a two day convention in Phnom Penh

October 21.

Among the attendees were Prime Minister Hun Sen, members of the Royal Family, ministers

of the government, foreign diplomats and representatives from civil society. Several

foreign dignitaries were also invited.

Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered the closing address with harsh words for the United

Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC) which oversaw the transition

to democracy.

He said UNTAC had behaved like "armed robbers" and maintained that Cambodians

alone were responsible for the subsequent peace. He added that the body held the

distinction of presiding over "the worst elections in the 20th Century".

Senate President Chea Sim was more amenable in his opening address the previous day.

Sim spoke of the contribution of peace and democracy that the Accords had delivered,

but spoke also of the shortcomings.

"In reality what we have achieved in ten years is not quite perfect and does

not respond totally to the needs of national development," he said. "The

key to strengthening liberal democracy in Cambodia is to speed up the process of

building the Kingdom of Cambodia into a state of law and reform in all fields of

our society.

"Social democratization, rural development [and] poverty alleviation [are] immense

tasks which require time and patience... [and] in which human resources development

is the key factor."

Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, provided a typically personal

antidote to the generally self-congratulatory praise of the government speakers.

He expressed his gratitude to the United Nations, but heaped strident criticism on

the government's achievements over the past decade.

Rainsy added the topics of corruption and the state of the economy to the conference's

theme of peace, national reconciliation and democracy building. He warned that real

peace "is deeper in meaning than a cease-fire" and said Cambodia's democracy

should reflect "respect for the minorities".

"Real peace means basic justice in society," he said. "If we refer

to justice, we can see that Cambodia has no real peace. Peace means the omission

of violence. In Cambodian society, violence is everywhere - it has increased. So

is this a real success?"

He said the country's reliance on international aid had made it a beggar among nations

and lambasted corruption among the elite. He closed saying that the government could

have done much more.

Rainsy's criticisms disappointed Dr Kao Kim Huorn, executive director of the Cambodian

Institute for Cooperation and Peace which organized the event.

"I wish he could see some of the positive things. [In Cambodia] today we have

an opposition party, we have a vibrant civil society. Human rights and democracy

are not perfect, but they are pretty good," he said.

"In the last ten years we have gone through the process of national reconciliation

and peace," he said.

"We have gone from less democracy and human rights to more, from a closed society

to a very open society. We have to put things in perspective. We cannot compare Cambodia

to Thailand or the Philippines - we have gone through hell."