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Red Cross remarks draw fire

Dancers perform at a Cambodian Red Cross event in Phnom Penh
Dancers perform at a Cambodian Red Cross event in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen yesterday lashed out at an opposition lawmaker for suggesting the Red Cross had a political bias towards ruling party supporters. Pha Lina

Red Cross remarks draw fire

Prime Minister Hun Sen has dared opposition lawmakers to stand by criticisms of the Cambodian Red Cross by swearing an oath in front of the Preah Ang Danker statue next to the Royal Palace, which local belief dictates would bring death to one not telling the truth.

Speaking at the National Assembly yesterday in the presence of the prime minister, Lim Kim Ya, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker for Kampong Thom, said that many organisations should be held to a higher standard of accountability, including the Red Cross, which he said failed to follow its own humanitarian principals.

He recalled a recent fire where firefighters demanded money and, when the villagers couldn’t provide it, let the fire burn; hospitals, he added, asked for money from victims before offering treatment.

“This is very cruel,” Kim Ya said.

“I would also urge the Red Cross to be fair, without discrimination, and provide aid for all victims. I have found that the Red Cross only provides aid for those who are [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] supporters,” he added.

Hun Sen, however, defended the Red Cross, which is led by his wife, saying Bun Rany did not favour the CPP’s political interests and only worked for humanitarian goals.

“I dare you to swear [at the statue] if the Red Cross took sides. Excellency, swear to be struck with lightning or die by bullets if voters from the CNRP did not receive gifts.

“I have not been taking sides with my wife. Both our parties using the culture of dialogue will go to swear at Preah Ang Dangker. Any party that does not do this is telling a lie.”

Hun Sen also called on CNRP president Sam Rainsy to come forward and state his position in front of the statue.

But Kim Ya said following the session of parliament that he did not feel threatened by Hun Sen’s remarks.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with rights group Licadho, said in his experience he had indeed seen the Red Cross distributing aid politically.

“The principle of the Red Cross [movement] is the distribution of aid to victims without discrimination. But in the past, we saw that some people did not receive gifts because of their political affiliations.”

Analyst and author Sebastian Strangio said the apparent threats against the CNRP were part of a “familiar pattern”.

“He gets Rainsy to swear something in front of all the spirits and then if [Rainsy] reverses his turn later on at the next election, when the culture of dialogue comes to an end, he can point to that and use it against him.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON

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