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
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
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
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
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.