Sam Rainsy at the grenade victims stupa last week
PPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy lashed out at the French government at the annual donor
meeting in Paris, May 24-26, citing uncontrolled and misused development aid and
accusing French companies of being involved in corruption.
Rainsy circulated documents he said proved his allegations, as Prime Minister Hun
Sen delivered his opening speech at the World Bank headquarters in Paris.
Rainsy had three main points of criticism against the French government:
First, its decision in 1994 to help create the Gendarmerie and its continued support
for and training of Gendarmerie units. The Gendarmerie acts both as military police
and justice police and is responsible for carrying out arrests at the order of the
However, the Gendarmerie has long been known as one of the most rogue armed forces
in Cambodia. In a 1997 report, then UN human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg expressed
deep concern over the Gendarmerie's activities.
"Unless the Royal Gendarmerie is strictly and effectively brought under the
rule of law, made to observe strict neutrality when carrying out its mandate, and
demonstrates its professional effectiveness, it should be dismantled," Hammarberg
He also noted that the Gendarmerie had been "one of the most active" of
armed forces during the July 1997 fighting in Phnom Penh.
The Gendarmerie has since come under new leadership, but according to one human rights
worker, there has been no noticeable change in the behavior of Gendarmerie units.
"They are still involved in quite a number of violations in the shape of physical
assaults, killings, illegal arrests and occasional landgrabbings," said the
human rights worker.
At a press conference before his departure, Rainsy said that even French officials
were embarrassed about France's cooperation with the Gendarmerie.
"A high-ranking official of the French Socialist Party [the ruling party in
France] told me that he was ashamed that his country subsidizes and provides assistance
to a school of torture," said Rainsy.
Second, Rainsy put focus on the French assistance for research on rubber plantations
in Cambodia. According to Rainsy, the Cambodian government had promised to privatize
a number of rubber plantations. This had aroused French interest and hopes that French
companies could take over some of the plantations.
But when SRP parliamentarians asked questions about the rubber plantations of the
government, they received the answer that there was no intention to privatize.
"I have documents written and signed by Hun Sen, saying that the Cambodian government
not only has no concern to privatize, but will increase the state-owned rubber plantations.
The French are very naive. They have been fooled by the CPP for more than five years,"
Third, Rainsy will bring up the extension and modernization of Pochentong Airport,
partly sponsored by the French government with a grant of $20 million. The total
sum of the project is $120 million, but according to Rainsy it has been scaled down
considerably from its original form. For instance, the building of a second new runway
has been scrapped, but the cost of the project remains the same.
"It is ridiculous. They are not talking about the same thing, but they maintain
the same price. It means that there is a lot of corruption. I think the French are
accomplices if they don't revise their attitude, because when they change the project
they should submit new bidding - a transparent, competitive bidding," said Rainsy.
In connection with the airport project, Rainsy also accused the contracting company,
French Dumez-GTM, of being involved in corruption.
"This French company has been using bribes to keep out competition and to unduly
maintain its control over this $120 million project," Rainsy said from Paris.
At Post press time, the French embassy in Phnom Penh had no specific comments on
"We have not seen the verbatim statement yet, so we cannot comment," said
an embassy worker. "Rainsy announces a lot of things and talks a lot. That is
his role as opposition leader. We have a number of cooperative projects with the
Cambodian government, and if there are any difficulties with them, we discuss it
with the authorities."
At the Paris meeting, Hun Sen was asking donors for about $500 million dollars in
development aid for next year. He was expected to get what he asked for.