Lawmakers and constitutional experts have criticized a government decision to ban
a scheduled June 20 conference organized by the French-based Cambodian Border Committee
(CBC) as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.
The conference, scheduled to be held at the Cambodiana Hotel, was banned by the Council
of Ministers on the basis that its agenda might cause neighboring countries to "confuse"
the participants' opinions with that of the government.
"I think this conference...could create confusion between neighboring countries
and our gov-ernment's position [on disputed borders with Thailand and Vietnam],"
said Khieu Kanharith, MoI Secretary of State. "We reserve this job for the government."
The CBC had organized the conference - which included participants from the US, Canada
and Sweden as well as representatives of the Student Movement for Democracy (SMD)
- to discuss the status of Cambodia's territorial integrity based on international
accords embodied in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement.
"We have no intention to go against the government or any political party because
we are unaffiliated with a political party," said CBC President Sean Pengse.
The conference ban was criticized by Say Bory of the Constitutional Council as a
possible violation of Cambodia's constitution.
"I don't know how [the government] could legally ban a private seminar... it
makes it appear that Cambodia has no freedom of expression," Bory said. "I
think that the border issue should not be kept secret but is an obligation for all
Khmer to keep themselves informed about."
Bory's concerns were echoed by Funcinpec legislator Nan Sy, who along with several
opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers had planned to attend the conference.
"I think that the joint seminar would be important in the interests of the nation
[due to] the Khmer territory which is being intruded upon by Vietnamese and Thais,"
Pengse said the government ban went against support expressed by King Norodom Sihanouk
for the CBC's goals during a June 19 Royal audience and put in question freedom of
expression in Cambodia. The King sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on June
11 requesting he investigate reports of border encroachment by Thai and Vietnamese
"I cannot comment about the progress of democracy in Cambodia, but in France
the people who form an association have the freedom to rent a hotel room for a free
discussion," Pengse said.
Um Sam An, SMD General Secretary, accused the government of merely "paying lip
service" to the issue of resolving border disputes with Vietnam and Thailand.
The conference ban follows the June 12 release of a report by the newly-formed Khmer
Borders Protection Organization (KPBO) which documented extensive border violations
by Thai and Vietnamese fishermen in around the islands of Koh Pring, Koh Tang and
"Our four days of research revealed that an estimated 100-500 tons of fish are
illegally caught [by Thai and Vietnamese fishermen] every day and imported to Thailand
and Vietnam," said KBPO President Buth Rasmei Kongkea.
Touch Seang Tana, a fisheries expert in the Council of Ministers, confirmed that
Vietnamese and Thai fishing boats were active in the areas outlined by KBPO, but
attributed it to a Nov, 2000 policy allowing fisheries officials to tax foreign fishing
boats in Cambodian waters.
Var Kim Hong, Chairman of National Committee for Border Issues in the Council of
Ministers denied KBPO's allegations, saying he had yet to hear any similar reports
from Cambodian navy officials.
"I have no comment because I haven't received any report from the local authorities,"
said Kim Hong.