It may not be a milestone anniversary, but the significance of this day 22 years ago is something the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party wants everyone to remember when it begins its latest mass protest this morning, a spokesman said yesterday.
On this date in 1991, the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements by key members of the international community set Cambodia on a new path – one towards greater peace, democracy and human rights. As far as the CNRP is concerned, Cambodia is a long way from achieving all those goals.
“The international community has spent a lot of money on Cambodia,” CNRP lawmaker-elect Yim Sovann said. “There must be unity and solidarity against the authoritarian regime.”
From today until Friday, the CNRP plans to march at least 1,000 representatives to offices of the UN and to foreign embassies of countries that were signatories to the Paris Peace Agreements.
Weaving in their enduring demands for an investigation into July 28’s national election – officially won by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party 68 seats to 55 – the opposition party will make it known that certain goals of the Paris agreements remain unfulfilled.
“We want to draw the attention of the international community to help guarantee the peace agreements are implemented properly,” he said.
A serious challenge for the CNRP, however, is that thus far, no foreign embassies have been willing to publicly back the opposition, and almost none have taken action that might keep the post-election momentum of CNRP leader Sam Rainsy going.
Australia and France, for instance, have already congratulated Hun Sen on victory.
Nicolas Baudouin, first secretary at the French embassy, declined to comment yesterday on the significance of that gesture, but said, “France will continue to support the democratic development of the country”.
Muhsinin Dolisada, first secretary at the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh, spoke more specifically.
Indonesia, which played a central role in the signing of the 1991 agreements in France, doesn’t “have any further commitment” to the matter beyond accepting a petition, he said.
“Yes, we were signatories, and at that time , our foreign minister, I believe, was co-chair,” he said. “But it’s difficult for us to comment [now] on [democracy and human rights] here. It is an internal situation.”
US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh declined to answer questions about a planned CNRP march on his office.
“We support democratic development in Cambodia,” he said. “In regards to the scheduled protests, we support the right of people to gather peacefully.”
But Sovann said he was confident that signatories – in particular the US – supported what the CNRP was doing and hoped they would “speak in one voice to ensure … Cambodia is back on track to democracy”.
‘Leave it to us’
Even if embassies were to strongly support the CNRP’s position, they can only do so much, senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap warned yesterday.
“They [the CNRP] can commemorate the anniversary of the Paris agreements … but the signatory countries cannot interfere in Cambodia’s political situation, only provide recommendations.”
Yeap questioned the CNRP’s strategy of linking its protest to the peace agreements, saying the “spirit of the Paris agreement – 97 per cent of it – was included in the 1993 Constitution”.
“The country has since become the Kingdom of Cambodia – which is sovereign and has integrity,” he said.
Not everyone thinks it’s that simple. When former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, a significant player in the Paris process, spoke after King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s death last year, he lamented the difficulties Cambodia has faced since elections run by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1993.
“When we set in train the UN peace plan for Cambodia in 1989, it was with a three-part agenda, the hope being to deliver not just peace, but democracy and human rights as well,” he said. “I suspected at the time that we were being a little optimistic on the latter two objectives, and this has absolutely proved to be the case.”
Indeed, accord signatories signed a document which undertook to “promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia … to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses”.
Ideals and reality
It’s with this in mind that many can understand why Rainsy has sought audiences with Western donors and signatories to keep pushing for an investigation into election results, rather than accept the huge gains his party made.
Cambodian historian David Chandler said yesterday the CNRP’s “objection is legitimate”.
But the problem, he said, was that such an objection did not correspond with the reality of Cambodia.
“A three-day rally seems worrisome,” he said, projecting a worst-case scenario. “If it gathers momentum, that suggests casualties to me.”
A more pragmatic approach for Rainsy, Chandler added, would be for his party to accept its 55 seats.
“I think that Rainsy is betraying the people who voted for him. If you win seats, you’re supposed to take them.”
But the CNRP’s Sovann said demonstrations to demand reform and justice are what people want.
“We are representing the majority of workers in Cambodia. It’s not about our own interests.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG