The World Today for November 02, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

Stuck in Purgatory

CAMBODIA

Thirty years ago, diplomats signed the Paris Peace Agreement to bring an end to civil war in Cambodia.

The run-up to the agreement was hell on earth, as journalist Sydney Schanberg depicted in his book, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” which also served as the basis of a film called “The Killing Fields.” After assuming power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal regime proceeded to kill 2 million Cambodians through “murder, starvation and overwork,” Channel News Asia reported. Vietnam invaded to topple the murderous regime in 1978 but kicked open a hornet nest, triggering a civil war that lasted until the 1991 peace accords.

The democracy that the agreement promised has never really come to pass, however. “We did a great job on bringing peace but blew it on democracy and human rights,” said former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, who helped negotiate the deal, according to the National, a newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates.

The 1991 agreement fostered an election that resulted in a power-sharing government of royalist forces and the Maoist-inspired Cambodian People’s Party, wrote Al Jazeera. But in 1997, Hun Sen of the Cambodian People’s Party eventually seized power for himself. He has dominated Cambodian politics ever since.

Sen’s allies recently adopted a new law banning Cambodians with dual citizenship from holding high government office, the Associated Press reported. The measure was clearly aimed at preventing the prime minister’s bitterest opponent, Sam Rainsy of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, from ever unseating the prime minister. In 2017, when Sen cracked down on the opposition and the country’s top court disbanded the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Rainsy fled to France, where he has citizenship. And while Sen does not hold a Cypriot passport, members of his family and inner circle are citizens of that country, according to Nikkei Asia.

Cambodian officials recently ordered the arrest of a Cambodian ex-monk and environmentalist who wrote a poem criticizing Sen, Radio Free Asia wrote. The offensive poet, Voeun Veasna, 35, is affiliated with the prohibited Cambodia National Rescue Party and lives in neighboring Thailand.

The Cambodian government under Sen has also allegedly been heavy-handed regarding Covid-19 vaccine rules, Human Rights Watch said. Many Cambodians could lose access to basic government services if they can’t demonstrate proof of vaccination. The problem is the government has failed to put procedures in place to check the proof that people might or might not have.

With little power at the ballot box and none to fight officialdom, Cambodia is in purgatory, observers say.

But 30 years is a long time to wait.

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