The delusions of the January 7 debate

Thursday, 07 January 2010 15:01 Sophan Seng

Photo Supplied
A propoganda poster from the Khmer Rouge era calling for solidarity between the citizens of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Dear Editor,

Your article “PM blasts January 7 detractors” (January 5) didn’t demonstrate anything new for Cambodian politics. Leaders have always pronounced strong political rhetoric to create a clear dichotomy of pro- and anti-groups when this day has arrived. In reality, the government has consolidated full power to exercise over everything, including whether to celebrate this day or not celebrate. The current political environment in Cambodia has not given any clue of the possible threat to the stability of government at all. But why every year, when January 7 arrives, is there a flowering of incidents and controversial public speech in Cambodia?

The answers might be diverse. But I am impressed by the Khmer proverb which states: Veay tiek bong-erl trey, or, “to stir the water to see the fish clearly”. It has been 31 years since Vietnamese troops encroached on Cambodia’s borderlands, accompanied by Khmer Rouge defectors, to topple the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. The argument since has been endless. Vietnamese troops are presented in Cambodia as either liberators, or invaders, or both. In the past decades, the two debaters carried guns and ammunitions to fight against each other, at least between the Khmer nationalists based along the border and the Khmer troops based in Phnom Penh, and backed by a hundred thousand Vietnamese troops. But after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and the subsequent power consolidation of the Cambodian People’s Party, the debate remains only on lips and tongues.

Continue reading “The delusions of the January 7 debate”

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A Plea from Afar

Wednesday, 06 January 2010 15:02 Sophan Seng

Dear Editor,

Reading your article “Three more sought in removal of post at Svay Rieng border” (January 4) broke my heart.

The villagers should be congratulated and taken care of by the government for their courage in publicly claiming their ownership of the rice paddies and denouncing the violation of their territory by Vietnamese authorities who have mismanaged the process of demarcating the border. Instead, as unbelievable as it may sound, these five farmers face a terrifying fate and the loss of their status as “good” citizens.

There have been different interpretations of this story within the media, but at the end of the day, no one can deny the truth: Cambodian people living along the borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam no longer dare voice their concerns about neighbouring countries encroaching on their territory and stealing their land for fear of reprisals.

On one hand, the government may have good reason to accuse opposition leader Sam Rainsy of acting as a provocateur in bringing news of Vietnam’s mismanagement of border posts to the public. But on the other hand, the government is following a course of action that could rob Cambodia of its strength as a nation and destroy the immunity of every parliamentarian.

At the grassroots level, Cambodian people living along the border will no longer dare to stand up and protest against the theft of their land by neighbouring countries. At the national level, parliamentarians – both government and opposition – will lose confidence in their abilities to serve the genuine interests of the people.

The government must evaluate the situation fairly if it is to effectively represent the nation’s interests. I would like to appeal to the government to restore the prowess of elected parliamentarians and allow them to fulfil their duties, which are more important than those of the lower court of Svay Rieng. I would also like to appeal to the government to drop all charges against the five farmers – Prak Chea, Neang Phally, Prak Koeun, Meas Srey and Prom Chea – and release them without condition.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii

Original reference: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010010630653/National-news/a-plea-from-afar.html

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