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Germany's man in Phnom Penh

Germany's man in Phnom Penh

Germany's Ambassador to Cambodia, Pius Fischer, right, was born in Bavaria and studied

mathematics at the Technical University of Munich. Despite an enduring affinity for

the clarity of maths, Fischer realized at a young age that his interests were too

wide-ranging for the specialization necessary for a successful career as a mathematician.

Consequently, he earned a postgraduate degree in economics and entered the German

Foreign Office. His previous diplomatic postings have ranged from New Delhi to the

Vatican - the latter, Fischer playfully suggests, he acquired on the basis of his

ecclesiastical first name. Now in the second year of what will probably be a three-year

posting in Cambodia, Fischer met Cat Barton to discuss land grabbing, the Khmer Rouge

Trials and 300 Angkorean statues that are being flown to Bonn at the end of the year.

What are the issues you feel most strongly about in Cambodia?

The proliferation of land disputes in Cambodia has reached alarming proportions.

We would like to see stronger determination on the part of the Cambodian government

to address this issue. The World Bank discovered irregularities by officials in ministries

[working on land management issues]. In my opinion, it is a tragedy that those in

charge of providing a service for the Cambodian population and working for the betterment

of living standards are involved in graft. Therefore we expect a thorough investigation

by the Cambodian authorities, the results of which will be published, and those found

to be responsible to be held accountable either through disciplinary or legal procedures.

The German Embassy seems one of the most vocal among Cambodia's donor community.

Is this the case?

I don't think other embassies are reluctant to speak out. There is a division of

labor within the donor community to ensure we don't all speak out on the same topics.

Traditionally, Germany speaks out on land issues as we are directly involved on the

ground, so we know what is happening at this level.

Considering Germany's recent history, does your nation have special lessons to impart

to Cambodia, especially with regard to the Khmer Rouge Trial (KRT)?

The situation in Germany after World War II was very different from the situation

in Cambodia following the removal of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is not our endeavor

to teach any particular lessons, but we do have experiences that the [KRT] could

benefit from. It is not just coincidence that we are one of the major donors to the

KRT. We think it is very important for the Cambodian population to understand why

this happened, who was responsible for it. Only if we understand history can we avoid

making the same mistakes again in the future.

What do you hope to see come from the KRT?

First, we anticipate it having a cathartic effect. The population will learn about

this part of Cambodian history, which, as I understand it, doesn't play a particularly

important role in Cambodia's history books so far. Second, we hope it will send a

message that there is no impunity even for those in the highest positions of political

power. Finally, we hope that the trial will bring late redemption to the victims

of genocide. We must not forget that over 1.7 million people, which was at the time

more than a quarter of the Cambodian population, died at the hands of this murderous

regime. In Germany we have had to deal with war crimes trials - not just the Nuremberg

Trials but a whole series of criminal trials right up until today against former

Nazi war criminals. Democratization in post-conflict Germany was a full success.

We do hope that similar developments will take place in Cambodia and in our limited

means we try to assist Cambodia on this path.

Do you think Yash Ghai's assessment of the state of human rights in Cambodia was


The role of the UN Special Envoy is different from the role of the diplomatic corps

in Cambodia, therefore we formulate certain issues in a different way. But Ghai raises

many important deficiencies. On the other hand, it is important to take into account

where Cambodia has come from. The last of the Khmer Rouge only handed in their weapons

in 1998. In this very short period of time you can't expect miracles.

What is your position on the recent "gagging law" passed by the National

Assembly, restricting delegates' freedom of speech?

A very alarming trend last year [was the] series of criminal lawsuits for defamation.

The arrest of opposition and trade union leaders, this was a serious concern for

us. Fortunately this trend has been reversed. We recently had a German parliamentary

delegation here and they met the first committee of the National Assembly for Human

Rights and Complaints. The vice president of the committee was Cheam Channy. We regarded

this as very positive, to see that Cheam Channy was vice president, that his parliamentary

immunity has been restored; this would have been unthinkable a year ago. It is for

such reasons that I have a certain optimism that Cambodia will move forward step

by step to greater democratization and more respect for human rights.

Can you mitigate the negative effects of modern technology on societies through legislation,

for example by banning 3G video streaming?

In the context of a developing country confronted with new media technologies there

is always the danger that this can lead to the destruction of the traditional culture

and identity. It is a question of finding a balance between preserving freedom of

expression and protecting the population, especially minors, from the influx of morally

undesirable effects. It is a very sensitive issue, how to strike a balance between

freedom and protection.

What would you most like to achieve prior to leaving your posting in Cambodia?

Over the next year, I would like to continue our cooperation in the development field

[and] support the KRT. We want to see it be a success, live up to international standards

and play a moral role for the judiciary here.

In the cultural field, at the end of the year there will be a major exhibition on

Cambodia held in Germany at the Federal Exhibition Hall in Bonn. There will be 300

sculptures flown from Cambodia to Germany for this exhibition.



Fact file


Ambassador: Pius Fischer, born December 23, 1948, married with

one son.

Diplomatic history: The embassy of re-united Germany re-opened in Phnom Penh in 1993.

From 1969 to 1975, as well as from 1979 to 1990, Communist former East Germany (German

Democratic Republic) ran an embassy in Cambodia. From 1953 to 1969 there was an Embassy

of the Federal Republic of Germany in the capital.

Amount of German aid to Cambodia in 2006: $28 million.

Number of German nationals living in Cambodia: roughly 293 total, with 180 to 200

living in Phnom Penh.

- German Embassy figures




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