Recently, police and military stormed into a village in Kratie province to put down what was claimed an act of sedition. As it turned out the so-called sedition was simply a pretext. The villagers had a long-standing conflict with a company holding a logging concession in the area. It is a fair assumption, although this will never be confirmed, that the company simply complained to the local authority, which claiming this outlandish pretext asked the Ministry of the Interior to quell an imminent ‘uprising’. The village consists of about 1,000 families, so one can estimate the number of men of fighting age at around 500. A 14-year-old girl was killed in the incident. How stupid do the authorities think the public is? Mind you, in 1993 after the lost elections some quarters in the CPP threatened secession of the eastern provinces from Cambodia. As a result the CPP was rewarded with sharing the government in a unique dual-position coalition.
Here we are looking at a village of 1,000 families. Does anyone in his/her right mind really believe that such a village would secede and form its own country, or what would they have formed? This whole thing is so ludicrous and laughable were it not for the unfortunate victim in this.
Another disturbing case is the killing of an activist in Koh Kong province by a military police officer. The initial hair-raising official reports simply underline the fact that many officials simply don’t see how they make themselves the laughing stock with their way of explaining incidents and their results. The well-known activist Vutthy was entering the property for the purpose of showing two journalists that logging continued unabatedly in protected forests. He was stopped and subsequently shot and killed during the argument that had arisen between the MP and Vutthy. The MP seeing that he killed Vutthy turned the gun, an AK 47, on himself and committed suicide. Later, possibly seeing how ridiculous this all sounded, it was officially established that a policeman who was also on the scene tried to wrestle the gun away from the MP. A shot was accidentally fired, which killed the MP - so reads the final official version. The policeman was promptly indicted for involuntary manslaughter.
In another incident 13 women who protested in the long-running Boeung Kak dispute were sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for what in the West would be termed disturbing the peace and trespassing. These women were publicly demanding just and fair compensation for the land they lost. They did this at the site of the development, which of course is now the property of the development company. The court deemed this unlawful entering onto the owner’s property.
True to his micromanagement style of governing Cambodia, the PM issued a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for 3 days on the occasion of the commune elections this coming Sunday. He feared alcohol-induced unrest before and after the elections. He surely doesn’t have much confidence in his fellow countrymen and women.
At the same time, he cautioned the population not to take matters in their own hands in conflicts with companies holding concessions and which sometimes blatantly violate the terms and conditions of those concessions to the detriment of the local population. People should rely on the authorities to resolve those disputes, he declared. This is what they are there for. Needless to say, the only reason people are tired of turning to the authorities is that they aren’t getting any help there, especially if you consider the mindset of particularly local officials who will do about anything to make an extra buck. Additionally, if their logic is like the one in the secession case one can certainly understand villagers for their impatience.
On a more ominous note, I read that the government is preparing a law that will make it illegal to lie on the internet. Now that’s a tall order. No details are available yet but judging from past incidents could this lead to the application of the infamous criminal defamation statute to the internet as well?
Normally someone who is a little more understanding and tolerant of the sometimes errant ways of the government on all levels, I am now sometimes doubting my belief that given time and more experience the people in power will eventually practice better governance. Seeing the examples above and many others like them those doubts may grow bigger over time. A PM who concerns himself with alcohol consumption before and after commune elections ought to maybe rethink his priorities? And this country is chairing ASEAN this year?