​The tricks of democracy, thanks to the Great Powers | Phnom Penh Post

The tricks of democracy, thanks to the Great Powers


Publication date
31 October 1996 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Michael Vickery

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Chorng people usually wear their traditional black clothes on special occasions.

F INALLY, on this fifth anniversary, the framers of the Paris Agreement, and the US-inspired Australian Red Book

on which it was based, may be getting what they wanted - a four-party coalition in which everything the People's

Republic of Kampuchea-State of Cambodia represented will be dissolved, and a Cambodia which will be solidly anti-Vietnamese.

The PDK (Party of Democratic Kampuchea, or 'Khmer Rouge') are being forgiven, the textbooks will no longer inform

students about the events of 1975-79, and an important Phnom Penh politician crows that at last, with ex-PDK support,

he will be able to increase pressure on Vietnam.

Those who are dismayed should be reminded that these regrettable developments are not just the foibles of opportunistic

Cambodians who do not appreciate all the benefits brought to them by the long-suffering international community.

The Cambodians, perhaps, calculate those 'benefits' from 1979, or even 1970, not just from 1991 when too many people

now active in observing Cambodia imagine that history began.

It does no harm to remind those people again that the PDK, who had been universally condemned, were purposefully

revived and rehabilitated after 1979, and cobbled into alliance with the royalists and republicans in 1982, by

pressure from the international community, not least of all the US, in order to block the redevelopment inside

Cambodia under the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), because it had Vietnamese and Soviet support. Cold War

fanaticism was more important than the reconstruction of Cambodia.

As a former UNTAC official, David Ashley, admitted, the purpose of UNTAC was not to establish democracy in Cambodia,

but to end what he mischievously identified as an international conflict, Moscow vs. Beijing, and to get rid of

the State of Cambodia (SOC) - ("not so much to introduce democracy as to create a legitimate and thus diplomatically

recognizable government"), obviously with 'legitimate' and 'recognizable' defined by Cold War victors ("The

end justifies the means?", Phnom Penh Post , 4/11 June 2-15,1995).

Thus censorship of anti-PDK talk was already part of UNTAC. Genocide could not be mentioned. Human Rights meant

post-1991, and for most of UNTAC it was the faults of the CPP on which they wished to focus. When the Human Rights

Component held an international conference in November 1992, a well-known Cambodia scholar who tried to distribute

documentation about what had happened in 1975-79 was blocked. Instead of evocation of what Cambodians had suffered,

there was a long incantatory plea for Aung San Suu Kyi, without relevance for the Cambodian scene, while Southeast

Asia's longest-serving political prisoner, Singapore's Chia Tye Poh, was unnoticed.

The new UNTAC community too easily adapted to the 'traditional' Cambodian anti-Vietnamese prejudice, not too surprising

given the predominance of newcomers who at home in the US or Europe or Australia had been inundated with anti-Vietnam

'news' all through the 80s. In its first number, the Phnom Penh Post interviewed only representatives of FUNCINPEC,

BLDP, and PDK, whose anti-Vietnamese positions were well known, and repeated without comment their assertions,

that, "UNTAC is ignoring the reality of Cambodian history", it was the Vietnamese presence which was

causing the war, "we have to get our country back from foreign occupation", "we just cannot mix

with these people...the Vietnamese are warmongers", "at stake here is the issue of a 'Cambodian' Cambodia,

and not a 'Vietnamized' Cambodia where foreigners were to be given the right to take part in the elections"

(Sara Colm, "Factions, UNTAC Debate Electoral Law", quoting respectively Ieng Mouly of the BLDP, Veng

Sereyvuth of FUNCINPEC, and Khieu Samphan of the PDK, Phnom Penh Post, 1/1, 10 July 1992).

Thus it hardly comes as a shock to read that UNTAC knew by January 1993 that PDK policy had been changed to target

any and all Vietnamese for murder, but did not apparently issue a general warning to this effect (Steve Heder,

pp. 94-6 in Steve Heder and Judy Ledgerwood, eds., Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia, ME Sharpe, 1996).

A minor affair illustrating UNTAC callousness and the gutlessness of the free world press in challenging it was

the importation by two US democracy-building agencies, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National

Democratic Institute (NDI), of Raul Garcia Prieto, vice-president of ARENA, the El Salvador government party, to

help teach Cambodians about democracy. ARENA had long been identified, and early in 1993 was confirmed by an UN

Truth Commission, as mainly responsible for the death squads and massacres in El Salvador during the civil war

which had recently ended. No one in UNTAC, in particular no one in the American-dominated Information and Education

Component which was responsible for educating Cambodians about elections, nor anyone in the Human Rights Component,

saw fit to question this.1

Neither did the journalistic community in Phnom Penh pay much attention. The Phnom Penh Post reported only that

"US Political Opponents [IRI and NDI] Team Up to Train Khmers", demonstrating that in the West rival

parties cooperate to promote democracy rather than shoot one another (Michael Hayes, Phnom Penh Post 2/5, 26 Feb-11

Mar, 1993). Among journalists who refused to touch it were the Asia correspondents of Sweden's leading newspaper,

Dagens Nyheter, The Guardian, and the local Reuters representatives. Only a very short unsigned note appeared in

the 'Intelligence' column of the Far Eastern Economic Review, 1 April 1993. Nate Thayer confirmed to me that he

was responsible, but the modest format, not designed to attract attention, was in stark contrast to his bombastic

upbeat articles on the Khmer Rouge and biased against Phnom Penh.

Although formally democratic in that everyone was guaranteed a secret ballot, the resulting democracy was nearly

meaningless in that there was hardly any difference in the platforms of the parties, except with respect to the

PDK, with FUNCINPEC favoring negotiations and the CPP military victory. Thus it might now be argued that the small

plurality in the popular vote won by FUNCINPEC, 45 percent, indicated democratic support for the kind of deal now

being cut.

One thing most voters surely wanted was out of reach - peace. Fighting resumed at the same level after UNTAC, with

the PDK having infiltrated farther into the country as a result of the Paris Agreement and lenient attitude toward

them by UNTAC, as shown on the maps in Raoul Jennar's Les clés du Cambodge (pp. 324-5) and Ben Kiernan's

Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia (pp. 214-5).2

So don't be soreheads, folks. Democracy sometimes plays tricks. The Great Powers, mainly Western, played tricks

with Cambodia too long, and now the Cambodians have decided to end the game their own way.


Prieto's presence was reported without comment in the newsletter of the UNTAC Electoral Component, Free Choice.

The UN Truth Commission report was dated 15 March 1993.

In the Heder-Ledgerwood volume cited above, Ledgerwood, on her own authority asserts the inaccuracy of those maps,

but their general outline is confirmed by Heder's interviews with PDK defectors in the same volume.

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