Shinichi Asabe Article Collection

The People of Southeast Asia

Cambodia The Truth of the City BattleAugust 1997

Four years have passed after the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations in which Japan also participated by sending the Self-Defense Forces and volunteers to Cambodia. In the last several months there have been some incidents signaling the approach of war in Cambodia, but in July the series of the incidents eventually developed into a city battle in Phnom Penh, the capital of the country. In 1991 Cambodia signed the Peace Agreements in Paris and ceased the domestic warfare. Now that long-cherished peace returned, Cambodian people were expected to have worked diligently to reconstruct their country. Most of the media condemned the city battle as a military coup staged by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and declared Cambodia was an anti-democratic and dangerous country. America put a freeze on the provision of assistance except an emergency aid, protesting against the way of treating Prince Ranariddh. Germany has not resumed the provision of official assistance, reasoning that the public order has not restored.

What should we make of this series of incidents? Where will Cambodia be? Whether the general election will take place next year as scheduled or not affects the merits and demerits of the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations as well as the future diplomatic policy on assistance. I went to Cambodia to seek after the truth of this battle. This report based on the materials I collected on the spot is on Cambodian present circumstances that are the background and the outcome of the battle.

“We did it to avoid a war.”

Which is the real first prime minister, Ranariddh’s successor Ung Huot (right) or Second Prime Minister Hun Sen who is answering the press?

On the 11th of August, a lot of members of the National Assembly and high government officials gathered at Pochentog Airport, where the battle took place a month ago, to see off Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, President of the National Assembly Chea Sim and new First Prime Minister Ung Huot. They were going to Beijing where King Sihanouk was staying. The former First Prime Minister Ranariddh and 14 members of the National Assembly who were supporting Ranariddh didn’t show up.

“We did it to avoid another war. The western reporters still look on our government from a biased viewpoint just as they did before,” Khiev Kanharith, the vice-minister of the Information Ministry stated as a spokesman of the government rather than a leader of the Cambodian People’s Party. He discontented with international media. The government holds the view that Ranariddh declared that he would resign from the coalition government in March 1996 but he wanted to increase the military strength of his FUNCINPEC Party, so he moved the government army at his discretion, smuggled weapons, won over to his side a guerrilla band of the Pol Pot Party that was decided as an illegal organization by the National Assembly, and made an attack on the capital on July 4th.

Alone and unaided, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has governed this country which was devastated completely by Pol Pot’s slaughterous tyranny for 13 years at the closing period of the Cold War between the East and the West. The CPP’s credit for this is undeniable. Cambodia is, however, still far from being restored. The CPP is more competent than the FUNCINPEC Party in exile to keep the country going even if it scrapes through. But the newly-born constitutional democratic Cambodia held the result of the 1993 UNTAC-monitored general election in high regard and shuffled the personnel of the bureaucracy in proportion to the number of the seats of each party, though the personnel affairs in the bureaucracy should have nothing to do with the election at all, and of course the National Assembly was functioning. So Khiev Kanharith complained.

At any rate, the armed clash in the capital shocked the citizens who were enjoying their long-cherished peace as well as the international society that was intently watching the progress of Cambodian recovery. “13-14 cars used to be sold a month before, but only two cars were sold after I restarted business on July 11th,” said Chei Nuon Pitu (28) of a Japanese car sales company. He suffered a 14 million dollars loss of the destroyed showroom and stolen cars caused by the battle. His face fell when he said that it would take him a couple of years to make up for the loss. The government admitted that the soldiers of the government army had also plundered. Although the government showed its intention to pay for the damage, the country has very serious financial difficulties.

The city battle ended in two days. But now, one month after the battle, the aftermath began to produce an effect just like a body blow. About 7,000 foreigners got out of the country and most of them haven’t come back yet, though some might be on vacation. It is foreign-owned corporations that the government can rely on to solve the employment problems, but some foreign executives went out of the country for safety and haven’t come back yet, some foreign factories were damaged or some foreign enterprises reduced their business because of worries about the future. The government circles say that the actual unemployment rate is 30 %, but there are so many jobless persons in town as if the rate were 50 %. Since most of the countries have not lifted self-restraint on trip to Cambodia, many enterprises in the tourist industry such as hotels, restaurants and the like are letting go their workers or closed to business.

In Phnom Penh full of dull atmosphere I found an unusually-animated construction site. A TV station scheduled to be completed at the end of this year is being constructed with Japanese official development assistance (ODA). “The construction was suspended only for three days. On the 8th, the workers came, and…,” a consultant working on the site, Atsushi Maru (56), said proudly. He has watched this country for five years since the restoration of Churui Chonber Bridge, commonly known as “Japanese Bridge”. He didn’t leave this construction site even in the middle of the city battle. “It was not a coup at all. We should avoid a vicious cycle in which bad economy leads to public disorder, which leads foreign investors and tourists to leave the country.”

New Cambodia was established through U.N. Peacekeeping Operations. Is it true what the Cambodian People’s Party is saying? Will the political situation be stable? Will the people’s livelihood be secure? The countries that transplanted democracy into this country prior to any other developing countries in its neighborhood should bear responsibility for watching closely as democracy takes root in this country.

The FUNCINPEC Party refused an interview

Smuggled weapons that the government army seized from Ranariddh

The contents of the container that the former First Prime Minister Ranariddh urged to clear through the customs were not replacement parts, but brand-new weapons. It was on May 26th this year that as many as three tons of smuggled weapons were seized at Sihanoukville Port. Major Han Bona (36), who works at the engineering brigade base where the weapons were kept, said, “Two weeks later Ranariddh sent about 50 private soldiers to our base to get the weapons back by force. I grasped their intention clearly at that time.” He looked back on the details of how the battle came about in the capital in July. The government returned the pistols and rifles to Ranariddh , but didn’t return ten Russian-made antitank guns with pedestals and 248 antitank shoulder guns.

On the morning of July 5th the FUNCINPEC troops with the aim of capturing the capital bombarded the engineering brigade base, Major Bona’s place of service, and their infantry corps rushed at the base. “Indeed there were many Pot Party guerrillas among them. There is no child soldier wearing an earring in the government army. And I can distinguish them because I fought with the Pot Party for 17 years in the front line. They only think of destroying our country and delaying development.” He said and looked up at a big hole of the warehouse, which was made by bombardment.

As the FUNCINPEC Party have refused an interview, I invited Ranariddh’s former military adviser, Major Tum Som Pol (36), who has irresistible passion for sashimi and sake of Japanese food, to a Japanese restaurant. When I asked the questions about smuggling of weapons and alliance with the Pot Party, he only gave me evasive answers. “Some of them are true. But whatever I say, no one believes me, because I’m a loser.” According to him, he was now with the government that issued a warrant for Ranariddh’s arrest, and also he agreed on Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s policy. He seemingly changed sides. But his exaggerated fake smile told me that he did not speak from his heart. Notwithstanding that he commanded the FUNCINPEC troops of 300 soldiers in the city battle where 11 citizens were killed, he is allowed to be at liberty. There was no alternative for him to stay free. Every time the door opens, he starts at the sound and assumes a posture of defense. “I’m accused as a betrayer by my comrades who escaped to the border,” he said and ate sashimi with chopsticks. There was a pitiful air about him.

Hun Sen’s mistake?

Cambodia missed a chance to entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) because of this armed clash. It is a tacit understanding among well-informed persons that why the battle broke out just before the entry into ASEAN is that not only the Cambodian People’s Party but also the split-up FUNCINPEC Party didn’t want to let Ranariddh make his debut in international society as first prime minister. Western media reported the city battle as a military coup staged by Hun Sen, who had watched for the time when Ranariddh was not in the country. But it was Ranariddh that tempted Pot Party guerrillas into his own army, contrived to make them attack Phnom Penh and flew out unobserved at noon of July 4th, the day before the attack.

The government successfully avoided going back to the state in the days of the civil war, but it has to pay for its using military force. In a restaurant “Tamada” on the main street of Phnom Penh, there are only three customers even at lunch hour. A chief of the restaurant, Dara (30), said with a gloomy look, “The number of customers decreased by 70% because of the battle. We’ll probably not do as much business as before until the next election.” Service enterprises have to cut workers’ pay, lay off workers or suspend business because of a marked decrease in the number of customers. Sein Chiya (25), who was looking for a job offer on the street, said, “There are few job offers, but still we have chances to get a job now, compared with what we had before the days of UNTAC (the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia ). In those days there was not a foreign enterprise or a construction side at all because of economic sanctions and no diplomatic relations.” He seemed desperate.

The government admitted that the government troops also plundered the city in confusion just after the battle and decided to compensate the victims for the losses by exempting them from taxation or extending the term of lease on land. But the government didn’t reach an agreement with foreign enterprises including a Taiwanese-owned sewing factory, which claimed 50 million dollars, equivalent to the double amount of their investment, for damages. And the Industry Minister Boo Sochale (38) complained of having had eight four-wheel-drive vehicles stolen, without trying to conceal the fact that he was totally immersed in corruption himself. These disorders will add to the depression.

In order to restore the country which is suffering from war damage and poverty, the government may need a strong state power, but were they aware that an armed clash or the deterioration of public order rather than a failure in the entry into ASEAN is equivalent to a suicidal act for this country which relies on foreign investments and aid for its recovery?

Crisis Management

“It was the first experience to hear bullets bursting at the close range. I felt weak at the knees.” It happened just when Hiroyuki Arai (45), the head manager of the Phnom Penh branch office of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was about to go out to seek shelter on July 6th. He confirmed the safety of 85 people related to JICA by the evening of the 5th when the city battle broke out. On the following day, the sixth, the people living in the area where there was the possibility of being damaged and the people who were not used to living abroad were led to the safe places in the city by his instruction. After that, all the people related to JICA except four people including the head manager took temporary refuge in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur on the advice of the embassy. After he warned me that the following was his personal opinion, he commented on the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces. “Judging from the sending of the Self-Defense Forces to Thailand, even though it was a little too late, the Japanese government seems to have improved in crisis management. But I wonder if the people who are discussing measures only from the legal point of view at a crisis think of the Japanese people on the spot. I can’t think highly of the Japanese government that thrusts its own people into a foreign plane.” His remark seems to be caustic, but he dealt with the crisis alone to protect his 89 men.

Japan cannot freeze the bilateral aid as the U.S. did, because the Japanese aid accounts for 50 percent of all the foreign aid. JICA resumed three projects in progress at the beginning of August. But he thinks a new ODA-funded project should be started after airlines such as Thai Airlines resume their regular services. “To put a brake on the economic slump is urgent, but if an accident happens, there is a possibility that a new project will be withheld for several years.” The head manager Arai seems to have a sense of balance on a long-range crisis management.

On the other hand, at the one of the ODA project sites, the health center for mothers and children, “This center is very popular, thanks to ODA, but the number of patients who go to a clinic has decrease…,” Dr. Chon Hian (45) mumbled. His salary is still 50 dollars, no better than before. He implied that he lost his patients of the clinic where he worked part-time to make a living, because the most up-to-date equipment at the center attracted them. The government wanted to construct the TV station in Battambang for the encouragement of education in the northwest where there were hotbeds of guerrillas, but the request was rejected. If the political condition of an aid-recipient country is stabilized by the aid that meets the needs of its people and government, crises will be managed thoroughly.

How will the next election go? Where will Cambodia be?

The FUNCINPEC Party split into four factions-the faction of 15 members led by former First Prime Minister Ranariddh, who flew to Thailand, the faction led by new First Prime Minister Ung Huot, the faction led by Tonchai, the Siem Reap prefectural governor, who was a former candidate for first prime minister, and the faction, a splinter from the Tonchai faction, led by Onpon, a former member of the Cambodian People’s Party. The latter three factions of 43 members agreed to support new First Prime Minister Ung Huot in a body. But the FUNCINPEC Party, which didn’t get much backing from the military and bureaucrats from the first, lost power in the National Assembly due to the split in the party. In addition to that, the party sank in international esteem due to the use of force. And moreover, support for the party from the financial world declined sharply, for instance a Malaysian company Alistan Co., which was under contract with Ranariddh for the large-scale development of tourist attractions in Sihanoukville, swung over to Hun Sen.

“70-80 percent of the nation realized the true purpose of this battle and they recognize the Cambodian People’s Party as mature and capable so that the People’s Party will run ahead of the second party in the coming election race. I think we will win 45-48 % of the seats,” the vice-minister of the Information Ministry Khiev Kanharith remarked eloquently. However it costs 31 million dollars to hold the election next year as scheduled, and if the government bears the expenses, it may cause vicious inflation, so the government is sounding Tokyo out about its willingness of help, added Khiev Kanharith.

A member of NGO staff, Kiyoshi Uma, who has a lot of experience in 11 years’ Cambodian life, made severe comments because he loved the people in this country. “Unless the amendments which prescribe that the royal family shall be a symbol of Cambodian culture and that the members of the National Assembly can not have dual nationality are made to the National Constitution, the royal family and the members of the National Assembly will spend most of time abroad and come back just for profit for a short time, and none of them will seriously govern the country. The next few years will decide Cambodian fate. Since half the population of 10 million at present are under 20 years old, it is certain that the population will double in 20 years. Cambodia needs a powerful leader of vision to set about establishing an agricultural infrastructure as soon as possible. Grass roots support by NGOs is not enough. It is weak countries such as Cambodia that suffer most in the event of an international food crisis.”

Meeting with various criticisms, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen secured absolute power. The burden on his shoulders is equivalent to the total weight of all the people in the country.

(Story & Photo by Shinichi ASABE)

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