Cambodia: Ta Mok's Trial Obscures Domestic Developments

1999

Milton Osborne

International attention on the issue of Ta Mok's trial - when it will take place and what form it will take - has obscured the importance of ongoing domestic developments in Cambodia over the last month. In particular, this has diverted attention from Hun Sen's steady consolidation of his position as the undisputed leader of Cambodia.

For the moment, and indeed for the foreseeable future, there seems little possibility of a challenge to his position. This has been demonstrated in several ways, most notably in the proclamation of the composition of Cambodia's new Senate and in the compromise agreement reached between the Cambodia People's Party (CPP) and the FUNCINPEC for the appointment of district chiefs nationwide.

A nominated body established as part of the power-broking that saw FUNCINPEC return to participate in politics at the end of last year, the Senate's future powers are uncertain. What is clear is that leading FUNCINPEC figures have agreed to participate in a CPP-dominated body. They include General Nhek Bun Chhay, who was previously one of the CPP's most vigorous opponents. While Sam Rainsy has expressed his doubts about the Senate's legitimacy, it is unlikely that his views will prevent members of his party accepting their appointments in it.

As for the issue of the district chiefs, the CPP and FUNCINPEC have struck a deal that will ensure CPP control at the grass roots level of national politics. Prince Ranariddh has agreed to FUNCINPEC being given no more than about twenty-five per cent of a total of 180 positions of district chief positions throughout the country. Nothing could be a clearer indication of where real power now lies.

Meanwhile, the saga of how and when Ta Mok will be tried continues. For those decrying the 'culture of impunity' in Cambodia, there is little comfort in the public position that the Cambodian government has now taken, with senior Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng stating in late March that 'There will be no foreign judges and no foreign prosecutors' when Ta Mok is brought to trial. The government has taken this position despite the continuing demand from UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, that any trial should involve international participation.

Cynical observers in Phnom Penh question whether a trial will ever take place, asking if it is not likely that Ta Mok will be found to have 'committed suicide' as he waits in prison. Strikingly, discussion of the possible prosecution of other former Khmer Rouge leaders, such as Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, is almost totally absent at the moment.

WATCHPOINT: An unlikely and destabilising factional rift in the CPP.

 

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