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WASHINGTON (AP) — Cambodia’s leader is destroying a political opposition movement that threatens his three-decade grip on power and he’s accusing America of plotting his downfall. An influential opposition figure is in Washington is wondering if she’ll get any help at all.
Prime Minister Hun Sen talks about nefarious U.S. designs to unseat him, but the United States rejects that claim as baseless. Experts say his attacks are driven by a fear of losing elections next year.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha is imprisoned and his party seems likely to be dissolved this week by Cambodia’s highest court. His daughter, a spokeswoman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is urging President Donald Trump’s administration to act quickly and try to salvage democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.
“Hun Sen thinks the world is not paying attention and that nobody is prepared to do anything about it,” said Monovithya Kem, who wants the United States to impose sanctions on Cambodian officials complicit in the crackdown.
Monovithya said about 20 lawmakers, out of the party’s 55 in the 123-member National Assembly, have fled Cambodia since Kem Sokha was arrested Sept. 3 and charged with treason, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Monovithya and her sister also fled, fearing arrest. The government accuses them of conspiring with the CIA.
It’s not unusual for Cambodian politicians to demonize the U.S. There’s fertile history to draw on.
U.S. secret bombing during the Vietnam War is often blamed for the rise of the Khmer Rouge, whose late 1970s genocidal rule killed one-quarter of the Cambodian population. After a Vietnamese invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge, the U.S. voted for a coalition including the former rulers to retain Cambodia’s U.N. seat instead of giving it to the Vietnam-backed government.
Since Cambodia emerged from civil war in the 1990s, however, the U.S. has been a more benign presence. Since 1991, it has provided $1.8 billion in aid for development and democracy promotion and $60 million in military assistance, U.S. government data show. Hun Sen’s eldest son was even educated at West Point.
But in recent years, the Cambodian leader’s relationship with Washington has become increasingly acrimonious. In that time, Cambodia’s reliance on nearby China, which avoids criticizing others’ human rights records, has intensified.
“U.S. influence in Cambodia is at an all-time low,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch in Washington.
He said the U.S. retains some power and leverage, particularly through voting rights at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank that provide aid for the impoverished country. America also is a big market for Cambodian textiles. Still, U.S. officials aren’t sure they can change Hun Sen’s calculus.
“Authoritarians don’t give up power easily,” Sifton said. “He still has China. He still has Vietnam. He still has ASEAN members who will stand beside him.” There are 10 members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose leaders Trump was to meet at a summit in the Philippines.
Through 32 years in power, Hun Sen has mastered how to sideline political opponents. In 1997, he ousted a co-prime minister in a bloody coup. In recent years, he’s used Cambodia’s pliant judicial system.
An ASEAN Peacekeeping Force would have been invaluable last year, at the height of the Thai-Cambodian spat, to patrol the contested border area as part of a conflict resolution mechanism. While tensions are currently deflated, the problem endures and can re-erupt at any time. ASEAN should be prepared to react the next time. A credible multinational standby force could also demonstrate ASEAN’s determination to stand together in the face of outside threats in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
PacNet #23 Monday, April 2, 2012
An ASEAN Peacekeeping Force in Myanmar?
By Fuadi Pitsuwan
Fuadi Pitsuwan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS in Hawaii. The views expressed in this article are the author’s, not those of his affiliations.
Does the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) want to sustain itself and hold credible weight in international politics? Does it want to develop and possess the ability to respond to potential challenges faced individually or collectively by its members? If so, then ASEAN should consider the establishment of a regional multinational standby force with a dual purpose of peacekeeping and collective defense against extra-regional threats.
Thank you very much Dr. Peang-Met for raising up this very important controversial debate. In Cambodia as people have been embedded by non-independent mass media including the unalienable traumatic past of war and genocide, the group of stability and stomach need, has been conveyed by majority. However, Buddhists who have learned and experienced deep understanding of the teachings see that the highest goal of Buddhism is “liberty”, not “the four necessities”. In practice, Nama (liberty) and Rupa (four necessities) must be equal and in balance.In Vipassana meditation, practitioners cannot get into the Dhamma stream if one cannot balance Nama and Rupa. Socially and politically observing, Cambodia is not in the stage of any thing identical to these three stages. Scandals of non-independent judicial system, economic development through poor evictions, non-independent mass media, rampant corruption from tops to bottoms, political autocracy, favoritism and cronyism etc. have been lingering on the murky stage…do we see Cambodia is in the pathway of engineering in development and stability, engineering in creating liberty, or engineering in balancing of both social commodities?
Many readers emailed me following my series of articles on replacing Cambodia’s dictatorship with a democratic form of government. As many emails contained similar concerns, I have grouped those with similar themes and will use this column to deal with two.
Real politics focuses on real factors and current changes of a country. It doesn’t give much value to the past or the ideology of politics. Real politics is contradictory to the politics of memory but it is a base of future politics.
If we talk about real politics in Cambodia, we might concentrate on how we can encapsulate self-reliance on key national fields such as heuristic political domain, economics of sustainable development and development for all, and the independence of judiciary system which can provide trust and just for all Cambodian people. Social security or social wellness needs trusted and just judiciary system.
At the moment, as a younger Cambodian, I can see that Cambodia cannot lift up its dignity as once it proclaimed a great empire in the region if Cambodian leaders and some Cambodians are still using the past trauma, genocide and previous regimes as their tools to measure the current development. It is very impossible to say that Cambodia today and Cambodia last several decades is in the same pace. Last few decades, economists didn’t use GDP to measure growths. Last several decades, we didn’t have iphone or broad band internet to watch online TVs or all visual video clips etc.
Wisely speaking and straight to the beneficial points for Cambodia, we must focus on improvement at the present for a better future. The past is just a lesson. It is incomparable to proclaim dignity for current Cambodians by comparing its present capacity to the past.
Hence, Paris Peace Agreement is a fact that we must remind to maintain our progressive conscience. PPA is the foundation for Cambodia. Cambodia can build other important parts of this nation-house because of this foundation. It is not wise to uproot or renege this foundation. Millions of dollar have flowed into Cambodia because of this PPA. The one who has received benefit most from the PPA is the one who has rejected this important foundation. Do you think they are an “ungrateful person” or Khmer called “Akattanno” or not?