Cambodia: Strategy Of Normalisation Continues


Tony Kevin

January and February were good months for Cambodia. Normalisation of civil society continues.

In the run-up to the World Bank Consultative meeting in Tokyo (25-26 February), the Cambodian Government has reasonably impressed donors with its undertakings to address major abuses: deforestation, corruption, failures in revenue collection, impunity in the criminal justice system. We have seen such promises before, but this time the Cambodians seem more serious especially on forestry. At this stage it looks as if the Cambodian target of a three-year rolling pledge of around US$1300 million (with $450 million in 1999) will be achieved in Tokyo. Japan, France, and the ADB have already announced substantial pledges and a positive momentum is building. There will be no conditionality as such, but Prime Minister Hun Sen who will attend the meeting will certainly be given a clear message: continued donor funding will depend on tangible performance gains in all the areas noted above.

There is no disposition to link funding with the second major issue: putting Khmer Rouge regime leaders on trial. The Government of Cambodia now has at least three major former Khmer Rouge leaders living in its sovereign territory (at least nominally – Hun Sen could not force the second-generation Khmer Rouge leadership in Pailin to hand over former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Sampan, Noun Chea and Ieng Sary for trial unless the leaders in Pailin agreed to do so). The world has decided that Cambodia must try such leaders. It is worth recalling that only five years ago, the same powers were trying hard to stitch the same Khmer Rouge leaders into the UNTAC peace accords; and that since then, they have until very recently had effective freedom of movement into and out of Thailand in the border areas.

Hun Sen has said he wants to put former Khmer Rouge regime leaders on trial, but he will have to balance this against his concern not to risk destabilising the recently achieved absorption into the Cambodian army of the mass defections of Khmer Rouge soldiery. He has said he may have to proceed with caution on this, until the processes of reconciliation and demobilisation are further advanced. The angry noises coming out of Pailin over the past few weeks bear out his concern. And most of those who are now pressing Hun Sen hardest are the same US-based groups that have been most critical of him on human rights grounds; so Hun Sen smells hidden agendas here.

Around Phnom Penh, where people were truly distressed at Hun Sen’s courteous reception of two Khmer Rouge leaders on a homage-paying “surrender” visit in December, there is a widespread popular desire to see some form of trial or tribunal or truth commission set up. For Cambodians this is not a matter of punishment or revenge – there can be no meaningful retribution for the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime – but of setting the record straight for future generations and making it impossible for the Khmer Rouge to continue to dissemble and lie about what it did. Hun Sen understands and supports this public concern.

Hun Sen also knows that how his government responds to the forthcoming international jurists’ report (the team includes Australia’s Sir Ninian Stephen) will be an important benchmark of his government’s slow rebuilding of credibility in the world. So while it’s most unlikely that he will reject the UN recommendations, he can be expected to move slowly in implementing them, with a careful eye on Cambodia’s still fragile security environment.

There has been little progress with setting up the Senate (see January report) and the pending ASEAN membership remains on hold. Once the Tokyo World Bank meeting and the UN Khmer Rouge report are dealt with, early government action on those issues can be anticipated.

WATCHPOINT: The Stephen Report (due in early March), how the UN Secretary-General pursues it, and how the Cambodian Government responds.


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