Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN rep causes upset at CG meet

UN rep causes upset at CG meet

UN rep causes upset at CG meet


Lakhan Mehrotra

THE UN Secretary General's Personal Representative in Cambodia,


HE UN Secretary General's Personal Representative in Cambodia Lakhan Mehrotra ruffled

more than a few feathers last week at the June 14 meet with impromptu comments calling

Hun Sen a "champion of democracy".

Ambassador Mehrotra was asked by Hun Sen to comment on the day's proceedings about

an hour before the end of the meeting.

THE UN Secretary General's Personal Representative in Cambodia Lakhan Mehrotra ruffled

more than a few feathers last week at the June 14 meet with impromptu comments calling

Hun Sen a "champion of democracy".

Ambassador Mehrotra was asked by Hun Sen to comment on the day's proceedings about

an hour before the end of the meeting.

To the astonishment and horror of many donors, the ambassador said he had always

known that Hun Sen was a "champion of democracy". He then praised the Prime

Minister for making the connection between the rule of law and respect for human

rights as being a fundamental plinth for development, and suggested that he [the

Prime Minister] was the only person in the room to do so.

This came after Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir had delivered a speech reminding

the government that a "critical and sensitive set of questions" needed

to be addressed relating to rule of law, independent judiciary, creating a benign

police authority, and continuing reform of the criminal justice law.

He had added that the protection of human rights must also be addressed.

Many donors expressed outrage at Mehrotra's comments.

"It was reprehensible," said one human rights worker. "In any other

country he would lose his job."

"We couldn't believe that he would say such a thing" said another observer.

Ambassador Mehrotra, in a June 21 interview with the Post, said that he stood by

the statements.

"From 1989 to 1991, Hun Sen emerged as a staunch champion of human rights,"

he said. "He pleaded for references to genocide and crimes against humanity

[in an international trial against the Khmer Rouge]."

"I reminded him at the conference that this championship must continue."

Asked whether he thought it was fair to call the Prime Minister a champion of democracy

bearing in mind the scores of unsolved extra-judicial killings resulting from the

March 30 1997 grenade attack on Sam Rainsy, the July '97 coup, plus the pre- and

post- election violence, Mehrotra responded that he believed Hun Sen was looking

to the future.

"There are indications that he is pursuing that goal [to continue championing

democracy], for example the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which he proposes to establish

- he has promised an international character and standard. This commitment comes

from the Prime Minister to no less a person that the Secretary General of the United

Nations himself ... we can see how far [his commitment] goes."

Asked about his comment that Hun Sen was the only one to have addressed human rights

in relation to development in the room, bearing in mind Longmuir's comments, Mehrotra


"I said that he was probably the only one to link the two."

Ambassador Longmuir said he had no comment on Mehrotra's speech, saying "you'll

have to ask Ambassador Mehrotra himself."

Meanwhile the rest of the first of the quarterly Government-Donor meetings could

be counted as a success for the Government.

The overwhelming response of the donor community was a definite thumbs-up regarding

government performance - particularly in relation to Hun Sen's participation, which

was variously described as "outstanding" and "unique".

"He knew all the details," said one attendee, "in fact he knew them

better than some of his ministers."

Officials presented reports on forestry, demobilization, civil service reform and

fiscal reform, while donors responded with questions, and in many cases, congratulations

for what Asian Development Bank Representative Someth Suos called the government's

"speedy progress" over the last four months.

But while no-one seems to now be questioning the sincerity of the government to press

ahead with reforms, at least at the moment, the real question, in the aftermath of

all the promises and pledges, is whether the government can continue to keep everyone

on the right track over the next few months.

"There was definite political will there," said Jenny Pearson, one of the

NGO delegates at the meeting, "but there is a difference between political will

and [actually getting legislation passed]."

"The next few months are critical," said one diplomat. "It's then

that the reforms will actually start to bite into the pockets of those who are benefiting

from the corruption."

It's a sentiment shared by many donors and observers. In the forestry sector, for

example, the government has definitely made some sound steps towards eradicating

illegal logging. In his report on the sector, Chan Tong Iev, Secretary of State for

the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, announced that the government

had achieved almost a "95% reduction in illegal felling".

Certainly, agrees environmental monitor Global Witness, the government crackdown

has been very effective against the small and medium sized illegal operators. But,

according to Simon Taylor, "many of the key movers and facilitators of this

business are still in control of illegal log stockpiles - in fact, virtually the

entire infrastructure of illegal logging remains in place, which does not give the

crackdown an air of permanence."

In addition, little has been done to regulate the companies who hold legal logging

concessions, may of whom have been documented as perpetrating extensive illegal activities.

The real test in this sector, it seems, is whether the government is willing to dole

out the same tough treatment to the big players.

"I think we have to see how things pan out a bit longer to see if the crackdown

is going to move on from its current situation into something a little more permanent,"

said Taylor.

Other sectors are also likely to throw up unpleasant surprises for some people, for

example within demobilization, where the well-publicized "ghost soldiers"

are being sought out and swiftly decommissioned. While this is good news for Cambodia,

it's bad news for the handful of people who have been profiting from the scam.

The same goes for civil service reform, widely acknowledged to be the sector where

reform is slowest. The government has started to computerize the civil service payroll-

but it's still unclear whether this will effectively weed out the "ghost civil

servants" which plague the bloated civil service. Hun Sen addressed the matter

in his closing speech, at the meeting, pledging that there would be a fully operational

"computerized management system for the payroll by the end of 1999, and a complete

civil service census by March 2000."


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