W ho says Cambodia's a political backwater?
Political officers, analysts and embassies take note. Cambodia seems to be in the
headlines and on the diplomatic circuit again.
With the rainy season coming to a close, the "international visitors and political
season" seems to be warming up. The potholes along Street 240 have been mercifully
filled due to the the launching of Kantha Bopha II Hospital and the visit of the
Swiss President. However, Swiss flags have quickly been replaced by the State Law
and Restoration Order Council's ("SLORC") banners of Myanmar.
For a split second, the red, white and blue flags could be mistaken for that of Taiwan.
They look remarkably similar. But no, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen saw to it last
week that Cambodia's Taiwan ties and delegations remain purely economic in nature.
No need in antagonizing the "other China." Nonetheless, representatives
from the Guangdong (China) Construction Company are probably feeling a bit peeved,
as it was reported that they lost their reported $10 million investment to a Swiss
company for the privilege of running a Kampot-based cement factory.
The big international news of the week, however, is the arrival of General Than Shwe,
Chairman of Myanmar's SLORC. Apparently, the SLORC leadership is capping a banner
past two weeks of political crackdowns and escalating tensions by coming to Cambodia
to establish a sister city relationship between Pagan and Siem Reap.
Celebrating the twinning of two great ancient cities and civilizations is laudable,
but for the government of Cambodia to bestow a state visit on the leader of an internationally
recognized pariah state, is not.
General Than Shwe represents a military regime responsible for ruthless suppression
of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations resulting in over 3000 deaths, imprisonment
under house arrest - for six years - of opposition leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize
laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, effectively invalidating a democratically-contested
election won by a coalition of opposition parties known as the National League for
Democracy ("NLD"), and suppressing all attempts at meaningful dialogue
with democratic entities.
As Cambodia heads towards its own upcoming elections, is it sending the right signal
to her people by conferring and recognition to known dictators?
Myanmar is set to join ASEAN as a full member, along with Cambodia and Laos, in 1997.
However, ASEAN members recently have expressed concern of the latest SLORC crackdown
on pro-NLD rallies before the home of its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the imprisonment
of upwards to 800 pro-democracy demonstrators and duly-elected legislators.
The Philippines was the first to express its concern. Having endured a brutal dictatorship
under Marcos, Filipinos have had first-hand experience living under a totalitarian
state. Thailand was next to voice its concern. Coming on the heels of the 25th anniversary
of a bloody Thai military crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrators, the Thai leadership
has recently expressed its possibility of opposing the full integration of Myanmar
into the regional grouping. Finally, Malaysia and Singapore, strong supporters of
the SLORC regime (with Singapore being one of the largest investors in the country)
surprised everyone by perceptively shifting its position to one of equivocation.
In light of all this, why is Cambodia so willing to reward the SLORC with a high
profile state visit?
Cambodia's strategic interests in Myanmar lie primarily in developing tourism and
combating drug control. As the "Visit Myanmar Year" has proved to be a
dismal failure, so has its drug control policy. Cambodia should be keeping SLORC
at arm's length, not embracing it. The big national news is that the First and Second
Prime Ministers appear to be tripping over themselves, as they court breakaway Khmer
Rouge faction leader, Ieng Sary.
While all Cambodians are for national reconciliation, doesn't anyone have the courage
to call Ieng Sary and his band of men for what they really are? Brutal killers. Moreover,
why treat Ieng Sary's and his followers any differently than any other Khmer Rouge
defector. Is there more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye? Of course.
But take note Cambodia, the world is watching how you deal with these two discredited
movements, the Khmer Rouge and the SLORC. No longer is Cambodia relegated to the
back pages. It should begin to act so accordingly.
- (The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is an attorney working in the