Sar Kheng has been the Minister of the Interior for Cambodia, and the Deputy Prime Minister, since his communist Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost the election in 1993. You did not mis-read that. I did say “lost”. At a cost of $2 billion to the international community via a heavy United Nations presence during 1992 and 1993, this election failed magnificently as intimidation, murder and disappearance replaced the idea of “free elections”. The country remained in a state of civil war until the year 2000. It is not at all uncommon for journaists and other opposition to disappear or be anonymously assassinated in Cambodia to this day. The leader of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsey, who has actually won at least two elections but never held his rightful position as Prime Minister, has survived a number of assassination attempts and for some years lived in exile outside Cambodia.
As with many others in the CPP, including the Prime Minister Hun Sen, Sar Kheng was a Khmer Rouge cadre during the genocidal years from 1974, until he escaped to Vietnam in 1978. While other ex-Khmer Rouge who did not have the foresight or opportunity to escape across the Vietnamese border face trial for their crimes, the powerful CPP members undertake their roles as leaders of the country. This week part of Sar Kheng’s role is to play guest of Tony Abbott’s government in Canberra.
Allegedly visiting to sign a new immigration and border protection agreement with his Australian friends, Sar Kheng claimed as he left Phnom Penh two days ago, that the refugee deal is not on the agenda for his delegation’s Australian visit. He doesn’t want to “campaign for tourists”, and says that if the refugees don’t want to come to Cambodia then “it doesn’t matter”. With $35 million of taxpayer money already on the table from Australia, I am sure it truly does not matter. Meanwhile in Nauru, there are apparently 25 refugees willing to “hear what he has to say”, but despite being told Cambodian officials will hold meetings with them this week, this appears not to be the Cambodians’ intention at all. Knowing what I know about Cambodia’s treatment of minorities, I can only say that this has to be a good thing. Not that the Abbott government’s treatment of minorities is any different.
While this extravagant and despicable folly plays out in the shining and well-fed halls of Canberra, Bunong tribal people in remote Cambodia are being coerced and intimidated by authorities to submit their thumbprints onto papers which they cannot read, in the midst of a land dispute. By the end of this month, if they do not provide their thumbprints, “further measures will be taken”.
The Montegnard minority of Vietnam’s central highlands are also facing persecution in their homelands. Many have escaped into Cambodia and been repatriated home almost immediately without due process.
The Australian government are closing down indigenous communities in remote Australia which sit on land which appears to be of mining interest.
Similarities between the communisit ideologies in Cambodia and right wing ideologies in Australia are clearly very close indeed. The thought of being a pawn in the games of these amoral and powerful players does not bear imagining.