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The Great American Confusion

The Great American Confusion


THE US House of Representatives unanimously passed

a well-thought out and hearty resolution on Oct 10 congratulating the twin

cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia for their contribution

to American country and western music.

It then rubber-stamped another condemning Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

for being, it said, a human rights abuser.

"And that," said one US lawyer here, "is an indication of

the kind of depth and quality" of the House resolutions passed that


Congressman Dana Rohra-bacher's resolution is neither law nor a reflection

of US foreign policy. There is no follow-up expected on the resolution which

was just one of many passed as part of a "morning bundle", as

one US analyst described the process.

KR experts have called Rohrabacher's allegations that Hun Sen committed

human rights abuses in 1975 to the time of his defection from the rebels

in 1977 "baseless" and "unfounded". Many Cambodia- based

diplomats and analysts were amazed and disappointed that the resolution

was passed at all.

But it was, nonetheless, seized on and manipulated by various actors in

Cambodia, creating general confusion and raising the political temperature

even further.

Many within the opposition Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties still think

Rohrabacher's resolution can damage Hun Sen. They believe that somehow,

someday the US will act on it. So too, it seems, does the general Khmer


For its part, Hun Sen's CPP initially lashed out in retaliation, threatening

to close the Cambodia Daily and the Post and to revoke the visa of an American

DPA journalist.

The CPP only calmed down after some diplomatic soft-shoe shuffling by US

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, who was shown on television assuring Cabinet Minister

Sok An that Rohrabacher's resolution was, in effect, toothless and peripheral.

Sources say the government was told the resolution might fail and, moreover,

that it was not official US policy.

However, on Oct 5, Resolution 533 prompted Secretary of State for the Ministry

of Information, Khieu Kanharith, to tell Khmer newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea

that the three "foreign press" outlets might be temporarily closed.

Insiders say Kanharith may have been under pressure from Hun Sen's camp

to "test the waters".

Kanharith indicated that the Daily and DPA had fudged their coverage on

the purported assassination attempt on Hun Sen at Siem Reap Sept 24. Neither

agency, Kanharith claimed, had made it clear the attack was specifically

against the prime minister. "[And] as far as the Phnom Penh Post is

concerned," he reportedly said, "it always distributes news against

the Royal Government."

Kanharith continued that the go-vernment could not guarantee the safety

of foreign journalists "from [the revenge] of groups of people who

support Samdech Hun Sen" and who were angry at Roh-rabacher's resolution.

American and British journalists should leave Cambodia "the sooner

the better, to avoid revenge".

Within 24 hours and continuing in the following few days there was a rash

of armed robberies of foreigners perhaps 12 to 15, many more than what is

considered "normal".

The robberies could have been a coincidence of locals particularly civil

servants such as the police being in arrears of pay by two to three months

as Cambodia's economy worsens and the fact that a number of national holidays

are only weeks away.

But, at best, Kanharith's comments didn't help the situation, analysts said,

and at worst were an invitation for social disruption.

Quinn immediately wrote to Kanharith saying: "...threatening to close

papers and force journalists to leave the country, can only be seen as an

effort to intimidate the press. They not only violate your constitutional

guarantees but will blemish your government's reputation."

Quinn said that Kanharith's suggestions that journalists could come to harm

"can only be seen as a threat from your government. As such it is reckless

and unacceptable"

Rasmei Kampuchea printed Kanharith's reply on Oct 8 that the three agencies

would not be closed because "the international reaction [to Rohrabacher's

resolution] was not serious... therefore [I] will not take action against...

British and American journalists...". Kanharith also said that some

of his words were mis-translated.

From this point, the streets also became seemingly safer from robberies,

with the sudden re-appearance of armed police patrols.

The US Embassy was then moved to release a public statement on Oct 8 saying

that Resolution 533 "... reflects, in this case, the opinion of the

House of Representatives".

Quinn said that the State Department supported investigations into on- going

human rights violations and political killings in Cambodia. But, he said,

"US policy does not support a tribunal [to investigate] human rights

violations and other crimes focused only on a single individual, as called

for in House Resolution 533".

Rohrabacher immediately snap-ped back in a widely circulated response that

Quinn and the State "appeasement clique... do not reflect the values

of the commitment to human rights of the US".

"Quinn... may have endeared [himself] to Hun Sen and his legion of

killers, but they have exposed their unacceptable acquiescence to evil...".

Rohrabacher continued that he intended to hold Quinn responsible for making

misleading statement to Congress regarding the investigation into the March

1997 grenade attack against Sam Rainsy.

The pro-government Chakraval newspaper, meanwhile, reported on Oct 4 that

police investigating the Siem Reap rocket attack claimed that it may have

been the work of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The paper reported that neither the Khmer Rouge, nor "extremist forces"

associated with Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh, nor King Sihanouk were behind

the attack. "There have been worries that if the US is still trying

to kill Khmer political elite by using CIA forces and spies, Cambodia will

become, sooner or later, [a] US puppet as it was between 1970-75,"

the paper said.

Rohrabacher who has been described as "deranged" in pro- government

papers belongs to the Republican party, whose affliatedNGO, the IRI, has

drawn heat for describing the Cambodian elections as "... the worst

it has seen". In addition to being criticized locally, Rohrabacher

is being ridiculed among many foreigners, including Americans, living here


One American source described a private meeting some months ago in Washington

where Rohrabacher, talking about Hun Sen, said "in the 80's I could

have fixed this with just one phone call to the Agency".

The source was in no doubt Rohrabacher was referring to the CIA.

There is no suggestion that Rohrabacher had anything to do with the Siem

Reap attack. Nor, apart from the Chakraval article, has there been any suggestion

of foreign involvement, CIA or otherwise, in the incident. The point however,

say Cambodia watchers, is that the Khmer population could easily be stirred

up to think such might be the case.


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