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Why such selective law enforcement?

By: Norbert Klein Posted: February-21-2012 in
Norbert Klein

While I was in Myanmar for a week, there were also the celebrations for the 65th Union Day, remembering events in 1947 which led to independence from colonial rule. In his speech at the occasion, U Thein Sein, the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, did not only look back, but also into the future, reflecting the new policies of the new government:

In building the democratic nation, three main pillars - legislative, executive and judicial powers - are to be practiced democratically in compliance with the constitution. So, people's representatives elected by the people are amending, supplementing, and revoking old laws, and formulating and enacting new ones.

Successful establishment of a modern, developed democratic new nation calls for a combination of democracy with good governance, and the new government, therefore, is focusing on good governance and clean government.

The rule of law is of crucial importance to the establishment of a democratic nation. All the citizens, including those personalities, organizations, and staff enforcing the rule of law, are to abide by law. As for the rule of law, the government is protecting every citizen to be able to enjoy equal rights, while strengthening the judicial pillar.

(From a translation in the daily English language newspaper New Light Of Myanmar, 12 February 2012)

After coming back and reading through the newspapers from the week of my absence from the Cambodia, it was quite a challenge to understand some things that were going on, and the challenge continues until the time of this writing.

There were reports that Royal Cambodian Armed Forces – RCAF - troops with AK-47s and machine guns had been deployed to control a group of about 200 villagers who protested that some people in a land conflict had been jailed in Kompong Speu, and they wanted to petition for their release. It was also reported that the military leaders threatened the demonstrators: they might be beaten, and even shot, if they did not go away. Not only the report of the deployment of military force to confront a peaceful demonstration of civilians was a surprise, but that this happened only some days after the Prime Minister had criticized the use of violence against protesting villagers. I had written about this: 18 January shooting – Prime Minister’s interventions bringing changes?

But almost more surprising were some reports about the events in Kompong Speu.

The spokesperson of the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan was quoted as saying, "No one except the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, or RCAF commanders have the power to dispatch the military," and he added that he does not know who ordered the troops to intervene.

The bureau chief of the provincial authorities in Kompong Speu Vann Sokha was quoted to have said, "I have no information, if this action really took place, it goes against what Prime Minister Hun Sen said."

Some days later, there was still conflicting information. Major General Kong Bunthorn from the Military Region 3 said that provincial authorities had ordered the troops. But the chief of the provincial administration Soeur Soknal claimed that he had no information about the presence of soldiers.

Who is in command?

There were other, similar reports. There are again sand barges on the river in Kampot, transporting sand to other places. One report claims that 18 such barges full of sand traveled down in one afternoon only. But the city governor Nak Sovannary was quoted to have said that he does not know anything about the legal status of such dredging, or whether licenses have been obtained, "Some of the dredging is for local demand and some is for export." But two years ago Prime Minister Hun Sen had declared that no sand exports are allowed any longer.

Who is in command?

Then, on 20 February 2012, it was reported that the RCAF officer Kim Sarong and three soldiers had been arrested for smuggling illegally logged luxury wood. But later the same day they were released after their commander Lieutenant General Yim Leang intervened, promising they would be punished "under military police rules." - But officers of the Forestry Administration said, "There have been three times this year that our Forestry Administration officers confiscated illegal rosewood transported by cars with military license plates."

Who is in command?

On the other hand, it seems to be possible that law enforcement happens, if there is a request from “higher up” to do so. The Supreme Council of the Mohanikaya Buddhist Order had requested that spit-roasted cows should not be displayed in front of restaurants facing the streets any longer, as such "displays could confuse foreign visitors, who think Cambodia is a non-violent Buddhist society." By Friday, restaurants had removed spit-roasted cows from where the public could see them. Chhim Dyna, the chief of the Daun Penh district administrative office, reported that police had been sent to the restaurants, instructing them to comply this this new order: "We will confiscate the cow and the grills if they continue to display them to the public."

The Cambodia Daily added, "Nheb Tat, a monk at Wat Ounalom, said he has been pleased with the result of the crackdown, and hopes the government to crack down on other issues commonly associated with popular barbecue restaurants, such as public drunkenness and violence."

Maybe also other problems in society could be addressed in this way?

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Just while finalizing this, I received the news that a couple of hours ago, three Cambodian garment worker women, taking part in a strike involving more than 1,000 people in a special industrial zone in Bavet near the border to Vietnam, have been shot – and one is reported to be in a critical condition.

These events have already been reported also in Singapore on TV and by news agencies in many countries. The LICADHO human rights organization compiled news from the last 2 months, during which there had been 5 other incidents where armed security forces or private guards hurt 19 people, 7 of them by gunfire.

Concerns had been expressed – as reported above – that some methods of roasting cows “could confuse foreign visitors, who think Cambodia is a non-violent Buddhist society." Obviously there are more events happening which might confuse foreign visitors so that they may doubt that Cambodia is a non-violent Buddhist society.

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