This saga has taken another unsavory turn with Sam Rainsy being sentenced to two years in prison for racial incitement and destruction of public property. The neutral observer can only shake his/her head in bewilderment as to the extremes this case has escalated into.
Just last week the SRP published material showing that those border markers were indeed on Cambodian territory, or as the SRP calls it, it was Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian territory. The maps shown seem to be genuine and the border delineation appears to be in accordance with the relevant bilateral treaties.
As I wrote here before, removing the border markers, wrongly placed or not, was a bad judgment on Sam Rainsy’s part. However, as this was Sam Rainsy, the authorities acted with speed and full force. What else could he expect? The charges were absolutely blown out of proportion by any international standard, as is now the court’s judgment. Those wooden border markers, even if they were state property, were worth a few dollars at best. The destruction of public property is a laughable charge. But that’s not what was at stake here. Sam Rainsy handed his opponents the weapons with which to defeat him; and they indulged him. Basically, he only got what he asked for.
Racial incitement is a serious charge, though. Judging by SR’s past remarks on Vietnam and the Vietnamese immigrants and settlers in Cambodia, one could at minimum read a deep resentment into them. Were they also discriminatory? In my mind, yes. But were the comments or his actions in Svay Rieng racial incitement? The way I understand it inciting other people to discriminate against a certain ethnic group or race would constitute such an act. In this day and age, it is widely condemned by everybody but die-hard racists. History has shown us the outcome of racial and ethnic discrimination - slavery, tribal wars, and the holocaust. We know it leads to misery, mental anguish, and even catastrophe.
Politicians playing the ‘ethnic’ card seldom gain wide popularity over the long run. Ultra-nationalists, and that is what they mostly are, remain a fringe group in the West, and I would believe, in Asia as well. That Sam Rainsy chose this anti-Vietnamese stance as part of his platform put him in the very nationalistic corner. This offended the Vietnamese government and since they are an important trading partner, by extension, the Cambodian government as well.
But does the charge also include abetting people to use violence against such groups or race? Probably, but I don’t think this can be leveled at Sam Rainsy. What Sam Rainsy could have been accused of in the past is making racially discriminating public comments. So is two years in prison justified for an offense like this? Hardly; additionally he is a professional politician and these people make much more inflammatory remarks in other parts of the world. In the end, what remains is, sadly, a miscarriage of justice. And it appears as though this is far from over now that this whole affair has turned into a dispute over border issues in general. Sam Rainsy announced he would publish new indisputable evidence of Vietnamese encroachment. (I guess he does this in his own name in order to protect his party.) This only serves to anger the government even more and makes them dig in their heels harder. Their response may rationally not be understandable but it will probably be just as harsh as the provincial court’s judgment.
But logically, this latest round begs a number of questions: ‘Why was this evidence not used in a legitimate manner before this foolish actionism in Svay Rieng? Why is this coming to light now? Did the SRP ever submit this material to the National Assembly? Did they ever submit it to the Foreign Ministry and/or the Border Committee? Wouldn’t it have been just as effective if they had published this on their website and used the media to propagate it, as is happening now?’
Since Sam Rainsy was mostly playing to an international audience and the Khmer Diaspora, as one observer put it, one must wonder whether this overplaying of his hand was worth all the sacrifice. After all, the international community pays only lip service to begin with, and the politically active Khmer Diaspora can’t sway things one way or the other in Cambodia anyway.