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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cambodia needs to change, adapt

I know some Cambodian democrats are provoked that I continually emphasize that Cambodian democrats are on their own to face Premier Hun Sen's autocracy; that there's no international guardian of rights, freedom and the rule of law coming to their rescue and the sooner democrats accept that a nation-state's national interests generally trump its concern with human rights violations, the better.

But I keep on writing -- I am grateful to the Pacific Daily News for providing its pages as an outlet. Together, I believe we are making a difference. The great Chinese teacher, Confucius, said, "It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness."

A sine qua non condition for the Cambodian democratic opposition to move forward in its fight for rights, freedom and the rule of law is for the diverse opposition groups to stop tearing each other apart. This internal dissension is precisely what Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party would like to see continue.

It weakens and diminishes the opposition in the eyes of Cambodian citizens in general, and it presents those in the international community with an excuse to continue dealing with the autocrats in power.

I know that frustrated Cambodians who want to see things happen have less appetite for careful thought before action. A Khmer saying advises, "Koet heuy soem kou," ("First think, then draw"); American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "The ancestor of every action is a thought."

Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institution -- whose "lifelong commitment to the defense of freedom and democracy" and whose book "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" has been used in many countries to fight dictatorship -- said: "Unfortunately, often most people in democratic opposition groups do not understand the need for strategic planning or are not accustomed or trained to think strategically. This is a difficult task."

Sharp advises "action based on careful calculation of the 'next steps' required to topple the dictatorship," and that, "Creativity and bright ideas are very important, (and) need to be utilized in order to advance the strategic situation of the democratic forces."

While Cambodians in general know the "first think, then draw" concept, in practice many Cambodians draw first and think later. It was courageous and heroic for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to pull the border markers at the Cambodia-Vietnam border, but it certainly didn't look good to hop on a plane for Paris for safety and then appeal to foreign lawmakers to help bring him back to Phnom Penh.

It is understandable that Cambodians want to see things happen. Some are awaiting the mystical Preah Bat Thoarmmoek to emerge to save Cambodia. Others wish for a Cambodian Aung San Suu Kyi or a Cambodian Nelson Mandela and describe near-perfect human qualities needed among imperfect humans.

Sharp, who mentioned "examples of nonviolent action being used effectively without strong centralized leadership in the resistance" (in Serbia, against Milosevic), cautioned, "Exclusive dependence on a charismatic leader can even be detrimental to success, while wide diffusion of the skills to wage noncooperation and defiance can produce more reliable power."

I wrote to several former activists of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front who fought against Vietnamese military occupation of Cambodia that though I regret I don't see any Cambodian Suu Kyi or Mandela, I learned from specialists that leaders are not born, that leaders are made and they are made of regular people.

And, as I wrote last week, "If each Khmer does something, things will happen." Do what? Let Mother Theresa answer the question: "Just do what's in front of you." She advised: "There should be less talk. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone's house. That says enough."

In an earlier column, I mentioned receiving an email from a friend in Phnom Penh who urged continued "fighting" on two main fronts: Education and economy. Last week, a reader wrote: "Feed the people (economically) and teach them to be smarter (educationally)," and everything else (the social, the political, and the environmental) will follow suit. I agree.

Those who scavenge the city dumps for food or are forced to leave their lands so the property can be "developed" would have plenty to say; children who learn to bribe their teachers through childhood and adulthood will carry the culture of bribery through life.

I have suggested that, as an impetus to change, Cambodians must experience changes in their attitudes and values as catalysts to further, more pervasive societal change. I am not advocating that Khmers stop being Khmer. I cherish the English philosopher Edmund Burke's "tradition" as a link between the dead, the living and those yet to be born. Yet Burke recognized the inevitability of change as he propounded the philosophy that change be slow, natural and gradual.

In today's world of fierce competitiveness, Cambodians must adapt to the contemporary demand for creativity and innovation. This means a major change in traditional behavior which supports stratified classes, status, rank and role relationships that breed a master-servant, leader-followers, superior-inferior system.

Such a cultural adaptation may provide the resilience and flexibility that would allow Khmer traditions to withstand the integration of Vietnamese citizens that seems inevitable in the current political climate.

As her neighbors embrace the dynamism of this new century, Cambodia must adapt or she may be left far behind.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at
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UN denies halting Khmer Rouge investigation

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations on Tuesday strongly denied that it had ordered Cambodia war crimes judges to reject a new case involving the Khmer Rouge.

With the country gearing up for a major Khmer Rouge era trial this month, Cambodian media reports said five UN staff have resigned in protest at a decision to close the new case without properly investigating the charges.

The UN-backed war crimes court has threatened legal action in a bid to prevent publication of leaked details of the case.

"The United Nations categorically rejects media speculation that we have instructed the co-investigating judges to dismiss Case Three," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky of the new Khmer Rouge inquiry.

The names of the suspects in the case have not been made public, but they are thought to be two ex-commanders from the brutal 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime blamed for up to two million deaths.

"Support for the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental principle that the United Nations upholds in Cambodia as elsewhere," said Nesirky.

Judges and prosecutors at the Cambodia courts "must be allowed to function free from external interference by the royal government of Cambodia, the United Nations, donor states, and civil society," he added.

The Cambodia war crimes court's second trial starts on June 27. Among the four defendants are Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, the deputy to notorious regime leader Pol Pot.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly voiced his objection to further trials, however, saying they could plunge the country into civil war.

The international court's investigating judges have been under fire ever since they announced in April they had concluded their investigations into case three, without questioning the suspects.

International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley -- without the backing of his Cambodian colleague -- demanded the suspects be interviewed and more crime scenes examined but the judges rejected his request last week on technicalities.

Nesirky said the UN will "not comment on issues which remain the subject of judicial consideration, nor speculate on actions that should or should not be taken by the judges or prosecutors in any case."

He added however that the investigating judges "are not under an obligation to provide reasons for their actions at this stage of the investigation in Case Three."

Nesirky said the trial starting this month "will be of true international significance and deserves the ongoing, strong support of the international community."
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Cambodia means serious business

A recent post by The Economist turned the spotlight on Cambodia. The focus was not on the sublime beauty of its historical sites nor was it on its notorious child-sex industry. The attention was on how fast Cambodia is industrializing and building up its infrastructure. According to the post, Phnom Penh is in the process of building a new container terminal, and plans to build two new ports. Mekong is described to be a potential “commercial highway.”
Two major players, or rather rivals, are said to be fighting for a larger slice of the pie in Cambodia: China and Vietnam. Half of Cambodia’s foreign investment comes from China.

However, Cambodia is not just a silent recipient of foreign investment from other Asian and Southeast Asian nations, in my opinion. Cambodia has liberalized trade with its neighbors. More importantly, it appears that its government officials and agencies are making commendable efforts in advancing foreign business interests in its country.

A travel brochure from a Malaysian travel agency features a 4-day business trip to Cambodia. The itinerary is filled with business meetings with Cambodian officials, representatives from the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, as well as a tour of the Olympic and Orussey markets. This is an example of what Cambodia is doing in Malaysia: business tourism. Cambodia might very well be promoting business tourism in many other parts of the world. As Asian and Western nations try to tap into the nascent Cambodian market, the Khmer reaches out and courts other nations as well.

It is fascinating to see Cambodia modernize and to take advantage of business opportunities that are presented to them, and that they have created for themselves. Perhaps they might modernize the same way as China, perhaps not. It would be interesting to see how this turns out.
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Cambodia bans imports of chicken products from Thailand

PHNOM PENH, June 14 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's ministry of commerce on Tuesday prohibited imports of chicken products from Thailand.

"The ministry of commerce instructs all levels of authorities along the border between Cambodia and Thailand to prevent all imports of chicken products from Thailand even though the products have had phyto-sanitary certificate in order to protect our people health," said a directive signed by the minister of commerce Cham Prasidh. "The ban will take effect from the signing date until there is new directive."

The prohibition came after Thai officials raided chicken slaughterhouses in Nakhon Ratchasima province on June 13 and seized about eight tons of decomposed chicken.

The chicken slaughterhouses had soaked dead chickens in strong- smelling formalin solution before processing them as food products.

"The people who consumed formalin-contaminated food may suffer skin irritation, an inflamed stomach, vomiting and diarrhea; moreover, the prolonged consumption can cause damage to nervous system, sterility and cancer," said the directive.
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