Strongman Warns the West, Kissinger’s Unhappy Birthday, Court Crushes Union Leader
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, May 26, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
PITCHFORK MOB: Four farmers were arrested for plotting a “peasant uprising” and now face 10 years in prison. Such harsh government actions, critics say, reflect deep paranoia and a turbocharged hostility to free speech that threaten the Kingdom’s future.
LOCK STEP: Chhim Sithar, the popular and steadfast NagaWorld union leader, was sentenced to two years in prison for leading protests against her employer over its treatment of fellow workers. The union said its picket lines in Phnom Penh would continue.
TONLE SCRAP: Dead fish float belly up in the black, smelly water of the Prek Tnaot River. Environmental officials demand accountability. Provincial authorities make comical excuses. Finally, the Ministry of Environment has promised to investigate.
The fiery warning appeared to head off criticism over a flurry of totalitarian moves that critics say will suffocate Cambodia’s gasping democracy and add to its maligned global image.
The international community has so far not remained quiet. As the U.S. Embassy put it: “Contrived legal actions, threats, harassment, and politically motivated criminal charges targeting opposition parties, independent media, and civil society undermine Cambodia’s international commitments to develop as a multiparty democracy.”
The U.N. also condemned the situation. More nations and groups are expected to follow.
Rice Field Revolt
A Pol Pot-style “peasant revolution” was being planned by a group of farmers in the country’s rural northeast, the government said — the latest in a string of hardly believable conspiracies supposedly aimed at toppling the Hun Sen government.
Authorities charged the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community and three colleagues with plotting and incitement. Authorities said others were involved, and more arrests could follow.
Human rights groups called the arrests brazen intimidation tactics aimed at silencing critical voices ahead of July’s national elections. The farmers face 10 years in prison if convicted.
Provincial officials tried talking their way out of a Prek Tnaot River fish kill with laughable logic. The fish weren’t dead, the Kampong Speu governor said, just “unconscious” — and residents should be happy because comatose fish were “easy to catch.”
The Prek Tnaot, which flows from the Cardamoms Mountains to the Bassac River, has been troubled with pollution problems for months. After locals dismissed his initial excuses, the governor eventually blamed heavy rains and lousy plumbing for the deaths.
Environmental officials, frustrated by repeated die-offs and toxic spills, appealed to the Ministry of Environment, which promised to investigate.
The national election on July 23 is officially a one-horse race. The Constitutional Council rejected an appeal by the Candlelight Party to challenge its disqualification, leaving the ruling CPP to run virtually unopposed. None of the 18 micro-parties on the ballot are expected to win a single parliamentary seat.
The Phnom Penh Municipal court sentenced Chhim Sithar, the NagaWorld union leader, to two years in prison for leading protests against her employer. Rights groups decried the verdict, calling it a “blatant attack on unions.” The labor boss said she would appeal.
Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, made news this week, mostly for remaining alive at 100. To mark the date, a range of publications revisited his shameful legacy in Cambodia, which includes illegal bombings, massacres and bald-faced lies.
Cambodia announced plans to build a mammoth $1.7 billion waterway stretching from the Bassac River near Phnom Penh to the Gulf of Thailand. The 180 km-long channel will cut shipping times, create jobs and spur development, according to the government. Funding is still under review.
The hospitality industry has a critical shortage of skilled workers at the very worst time. Officials expect supercharged tourist numbers driven by the recent success of the ASEAN Summit and SEA Games. Insiders worry inexperienced staff could douse the Kingdom’s rising star.
Garment sector leaders are launching a pilot project to recycle offcuts and factory waste, the first step in eradicating the destructive practice of burning or burying unused materials and trash. The industry produces nearly 150,000 tons of refuse every year, nearly all of it torched or dumped in landfills.
The government will drop an eye-popping $1.9 million on cash payouts to SEA Games medalists. Officials had promised $10,000 for gold, $7,500 for silver and $4,000 for bronze. Cambodian athletes won an unprecedented 282 medals: 81 gold, 74 silver and 127 bronze.
“Surviving Bokator,” a 2018 documentary on the rebirth of Cambodia’s indigenous martial art, debuted Thursday in Phnom Penh theaters. The sport appeared for the first time at the SEA Games this month — an enormous cultural victory for the Kingdom — and might be included in future regional sporting events.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
May 22, 2003
Where candidates for parliament rank on the list of potential provincial representatives for the National Assembly may depend more on money than merit.
May 22, 2003
Swinging wooden batons and rubber truncheons, scores of riot police waded into a noisy but peaceful protest Wednesday outside the National Assembly.
May 21, 2003
Three wildlife conservation officials and a commune chief in Banteay Meanchey province were taken hostage Monday morning by a mob of villagers and rice farmers demanding land rights within a nearby wildlife preserve.
May 19, 2003
There was a time when the only easy entry into Cambodia was through Kampot. At its port, the biggest in the country, goods would be shipped to Singapore, China or Thailand, and imports from these countries would go inland by the Kampot road, the only good one linking the coast to Phnom Penh.
Survivors of Kissinger’s Secret War in Cambodia Reveal Unreported Mass Killings.
They expose Nixon’s policymaking, Kissinger’s key role, and how so many Cambodians came to be killed by U.S. aircraft.
Long-buried documents indicate that the true number of civilian casualties in the bombing of Neak Luong may have been nearly twice the official tally.
Any theft “was done by civilian reporters in their wandering about the village,” according to a previously unrevealed Army investigation.
Photos: Khmer Rouge, DC-CAM. Chhim Sithar supporters, CENTRAL.
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