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The Phnom Penh Post - custodian of Cambodian history

Vote counting during the 2013 national elections.
Vote counting during the 2013 national elections. Vireak Mai

The Phnom Penh Post - custodian of Cambodian history

I shouldn’t be surprised if, after a perusal of its old issues, a researcher says that The Phnom Penh Post is a chronicle of events that have been unfolding in Cambodia since the 1992 arrival of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to administer a shattered country no longer able to govern itself.

On the 25th anniversary of its founding, I wish to recall several important events and developments that The Post has chronicled.

Upon its creation, this newspaper covered, besides the workings of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia (SNC) headed by our beloved King Father Norodom Sihanouk, UNTAC’s operations, the deployment of its peacekeeping forces across the country to maintain the cease-fire and verify the withdrawal of foreign troops; its radio station, the first independent radio station for Cambodians; its organisation of the election of the Constituent Assembly; its encounters with the Khmer Rouge which had defected from the peace process and continued their warfare; the repatriation from neighbouring countries of more than 300,000 Cambodian refugees and displaced persons; the rejection of the election results by one party and the ensuing creation of an armed separatist group in the Eastern part of the country; the adoption of the new Constitution and the re-enthronement of the King Father (with no crown, nor pomp and pageantry) on September 24, 1993; and the formation of a new government with collegial prime ministership and ministerships of interior and defence.

Sam Rainsy, president of the Sam Rainsy Party, is carried away in a state of shock after the grenade attack in 1997. David Van Der/AFP
Sam Rainsy, president of the Sam Rainsy Party, is carried away in a state of shock after the grenade attack in 1997. David Van Der/AFP

The Post reported the rising tension over power sharing between the two partners in that government, the royalist Funcinpec Party and the Cambodian People’s Party (CCP); the expulsion of then Minister of Finance Sam Rainsy from Funcinpec and his ensuing endeavours to form a political party of his own, which had eventually become the Sam Rainsy Party, or SRP, and is now the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP); Sam Rainsy’s activism to help workers to demand better pay and better working conditions, with him marching in the streets with them for the purpose.

Vividly living in my memory is the gruesome, bloody and barbaric grenade attack in March 1997 against the Sam Rainsy-led demonstration demanding the independence of the judiciary. The widely called “coup” later on in July in which the armies of the rival partners in the government violently clashed led to the killing of many military and civilian Funcinpec officials, sending Funcinpec leaders to flee the country and frightened Phnom Penh residents to flee in throngs to the countryside. This was followed by the destruction and looting of public and private properties by the military and the ensuing downfall of Funcinpec.

One can find in The Post reports on the government’s “win-win policy” to get the Khmer Rouge to defect and surrender and end the war in the country in 1998. From The Post, one can learn how Cambodians, who were exercising their rights, have been facing risks such as killing, arrest, threat, intimidation and discrimination. Nevertheless, they could express their opinions on various issues through The Post’s columns. It can be added that, as Kem Ley’s murder has proved, a tragedy of national proportion can and has united the Cambodian nation.

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A German soldier and Cambodian women during the UNTAC mission. Germany UN

The Post has reported developments that have shown the success of the civilising mission of UNTAC and the international community through a variety of assistance and support, including the assistance in the creation and functioning of the Khmer Rouge tribunal for Cambodia to address its past.

UNTAC put the shattered Cambodia on its feet to learn to live anew under a liberal democratic system of government. It has since been rehabilitated and reconstructed, and has made rapid development when Cambodians, who were subjects when UNTAC arrived, have now become citizens and enjoy better living. They are healthier, more educated, better informed, more knowledgeable about their rights, more aware of social ills affecting their lives such as corruption, nepotism, abuse, injustices, land grabbing and deforestation. And they have demanded change. Many have now been elected commune councillors to work for that change from within the system of government.

The Post has reported developments towards this change: the merger of two small parties into the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) which soon became an incarnation of change and at this year’s commune election for this party from those demanding change.

Political analyst Kem Ley’s body being carried in a car for his funeral after he was killed at a Caltex station in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016.
Political analyst Kem Ley’s body being carried in a car for his funeral after he was killed at a Caltex station in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016. Pha Lina

To conclude, I wish to send my appreciation and congratulations to The Phnom Penh Post on its 25th anniversary. It has always been a reliable source of information since its birth, and has objectively informed and served its readers well. There is no reason it will fail to be and to continue doing so in the next 25 years.

However, I hope to see, especially in its Khmer edition, more Cambodian regional and local news besides national news, and more detailed coverage of developments in specific areas or sectors of Cambodian society, its economy and regions. Perhaps The Post could be more generous and have, in both editions, a whole page for letters to the editor.

Lao Mong Hay was a regular contributor of opinion pieces to The Phnom Penh Post from 1992 to 2014. Previous posts he has held include the acting director of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre from 1993 to 1994, and the executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy from 1995 to 2002. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch (US) for his work on human rights in Cambodia.

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