Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Heading Down the Same Road

Malaysia Today

Posted by admin
Monday, 23 March 2009

Cambodia has had a turbulent history even before the Khmer Rouges took over and started those “killing fields”. What and why it happened are all chronicled in history books but it was trifling as compared to the Pol Pot regime that killed a fifth of its populace within three years of its reign.

However insignificant it may be during the years when Norodom Sihanouk ruled the nation with an iron fist, his actions and deeds are the purveyor of widespread dissatisfaction that ultimately caused the Cambodian Civil War and later led the Prime Minister to depose of him.

So what exactly happened in Cambodia between Independence from the French in 1953 to the 1970 bloodless coup by his Prime Minister? What made the people of Cambodia support the revolution in 1975 that forced its monarch into exile?

One: Sihanouk intimidated all political opponents with overt threats of incarceration, bodily harm or death. This is achieved by utilising Sam Sary, a magistrate close to Sihanouk, the Security Minister Kou Roun, and the entire police force to do all his dirty work. The Opposition party, the Democrats ceased to exist after official sanctions were directed against them. All their party leaders were jailed on the night before the first democratic elections after independence in 1953 and were only released after the election results were announced. No formal charges were ever laid. Keng Vannsak and Thiounn Mumm, the Opposition leaders were amongst those arrested for murder but the courts retracted after finding nothing to implicate them. Pro-republican candidate Son Ngoc Thanh (at that time the most popular Democratic politician in Cambodia) was not even allowed to be a candidate as he was exiled by Sihanouk.

Two: Sihanouk closed down all pro-Opposition newspapers. This is done by citing lèse-majesté and any articles not in support of himself or his political party is deemed seditious. Since his abdication a year ago to form the royalist political party, how this charge was ever applied remains a mystery. L’Observateur, Pracheachon and Réalités Cambodgiennes were all ordered to cease operations when they pointed out that corruption is widespread. The editor of L’Observateur was beaten up by a group of unknown assailants a few meters from a police station, sacked and later jailed. The entire 12 staff of the Pracheachon were arrested. Even the openly pro-monarchy newspapers were not spared. Armed soldiers were stationed outside the editor’s office “for their own protection”.

Three: Sihanouk ordered a Military Tribunal set up to deal with state security offences with its selected officials enjoying full indemnity and its judgments non-questionable, non-appealable and not subjected to the course of law. Within two months of operations, this tribunal handed out death sentences to 22 so called “treasonous” offenders and another 9 within the year. No evidence was forwarded. The verdicts were decided by Sihanouk without the least concern to maintain even the sham appearance of judicial independence.

Four: Any person even hinting that this was unconstitutional and illegal was incarcerated immediately under the Cambodian Sedition Act. Sihanouk, using the Cambodian Police Force forcibly detained almost 2,000 such “suspects” in holding camps outside Phnom Penh without trial or appeal. Nothing was ever heard from this group again. Large mass graves later found near the site of this holding camp were attributed to the Khmer Rouge’s “intellectual” cleansing efforts.

Five: Political assassinations were rife. Political activists went “missing” day in and day out. Opposition politicians were spared bodily harm but were ridiculed daily in the state sanctioned newspapers. When Sihanouk felt that this was insufficient, he would demand these opposition politicians to be present at his palace for a full-scale condemnation session that was broadcasted out by loud speakers to the public.

Six: Sihanouk altered the Constitution so that he can remain head-of-state for life. He was the King before he abdicated and now he is the head-of-state with all the perks and benefits accorded a King. The ultimate reason for this is that he can lead his political party as a “commoner-prince” when he was unable to do so as the reigning monarch. He installed his ageing father as the puppet king and when he died, his mother took the throne.

Seven: Sihanouk became the ogre that strengthened and legitimised the Khmer Rouges. When Lon Nol deposed him in 1970, he fled to Communist China and resided in Beijing, and proceeded to give his full support to the Khmer Rouges (which he made illegal in 1954 and was fighting before his downfall), which was then only a small time outfit. With his royal patronage, the Khmer Rouges army grew from 6,000 to 50,000 armed fighters within the year. Many of the new recruits for the Khmer Rouge were apolitical peasants who fought in support of the King, not for communism, of which they had little understanding. No points for guessing who was arming these peasants.

Eight: Sihanouk promoted “Khmer Rights” which discriminated against anyone not of pure Cambodian birth. Ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and indigenous hill tribes were considered “non-persons” even if they were born in Cambodia or have been in the country for the past few generations. These people do not possess the full citizen rights as accorded any person born within a country who happens to have pure Khmer parents. Some indigenous hill tribes cannot even get government papers identifying them as Cambodians.

Find any similarities?

Because of what Sihanouk did and the manner in which he controlled the lives of all Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge went on an unstoppable killing spree to exact the revenge for its fallen comrades during Sihanouk’s reign. The irony was that Sihanouk returned as the puppet King during the time when the Khmer Rouges took control of the country for one whole year before he was again forced into exile. During the one year as the Cambodian King (again) he stood by and watched his people being slaughtered. One might say that he had no choice whatsoever but he did nothing at all and would have continue presiding over these killings nonetheless if he were not forced by Pol Pot into exile (this time in North Korea).

Pracheachon’s editor had this to say after his arrest, “Our country is supposed to have a constitution… and to have proclaimed its attachment to the Declaration of Human Rights.”

- Hakim Joe

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