Cambodia: An Uneventful Month

2000

Tony Kevin

The news from Cambodia is hardly momentous. Cambodia and lower Vietnam are undergoing more than usually serious flooding in the lower Mekong Delta region. So far, the water has not quite topped Phnom Penh’s high levee banks but most of lower Cambodia is underwater. Such seasonal flooding is normal, but uncontrolled deforestation in Tibet, Yunnan and North-east Thailand is increasing run-off and silting up the Mekong riverbed channels, thereby raising flood heights to dangerous levels (similar to the worsening flood problems in the Bangladesh delta country). People’s traditional safe refuges - road embankments and raised areas around pagodas - are being weakened and washed away as flooding remains dangerously high. Cambodia is appealing for emergency aid for flood victims. More important in the longer term is to set in place strong international regimes to protect the Mekong River system from the catastrophic environmental degradation now underway upstream.

The Khmer Rouge trials legislation (already endorsed three months ago by the Cambodian Government and finally accepted by the UN Secretariat) remains held up in the Cambodian National Assembly which under its President Prince Ranariddh seems in no hurry to debate and pass this controversial law. Hun Sen is pretty much off the hook, his Cabinet having accepted this compromise package which was advocated by the United States. Hun Sen says he does not want news about Cambodia to be dominated by this issue and has largely succeeded in distancing himself from it.

Internationally, Cambodia has had a trouble-free period and is out of the news. Cambodia took part in the ASEAN round of meetings in Bangkok in July/August and in the UN Millenium Summit. The economy is growing steadily. There have been no really major human rights or corruption scandals in recent months (as distinct from the regular run of such scandals of a minor kind).

Efforts are underway to establish an internationally protected wildlife park in the Cardamon Mountains of Western Cambodia, Southeast Asia’s last large undamaged natural forest environment and home to many wild species that have become extinct elsewhere in Southeast Asia, including elephants and tigers. The forthcoming dry season will be the last chance to protect this unique and still largely pristine wilderness area (formerly an unroaded Khmer Rouge no-go area) from the loggers.

WATCHPOINT: Is greater normalcy likely to enhance Cambodia’s international profile?

 

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