UN struggles to change Cambodia's ways

EM CHAN is a Cambodian policeman. According to the charge laid against him in a Phnom Penh court this week, he shot dead Kiev Savuth, an opposition party official, in the port town of Kampot on 14 January. When Mr Kiev's wife tried to escape with the couple's young child, Mr Em threw a grenade after them, the court was told. Mrs Kiev was seriously injured, but lived to identify her attacker.

The policeman is the first person to be charged since a wave of political violence began six weeks ago. Officials of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), whose mission is to restore peace to the country and create a 'neutral political environment' before elections are held, have identified 46 attacks on party offices and workers since early December.

In most cases the victims, like Mr Kiev, have been members of the royalist party of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, known by its French initials Funcinpec, which expects to win the most votes in elections for a national assembly in three or four months' time.

The finger points at the Phnom Penh government, which is likely to fare extremely badly at the polls. Whoever was responsible for the violence, the head of Untac's human rights wing, Dennis McNamara, said this week, the authorities did not seem to be making any attempt to prevent it, let alone find the perpetrators and arrest them.

Nor is Mr Em's case any sign of a change of heart. To bring him to trial, Untac had to arrest him, fly him to Phnom Penh, appoint an Australian lawyer to prosecute him, and place him pending the hearing in a detention centre it has set up near the airport, where he is guarded by Ghanaian policemen. After some difficulty, a Cambodian magistrate was found before whom the charge could be laid, but it may be necessary to hold the trial before a UN-appointed judge as well. Even the defence lawyer is a Cambodian who has been through a UN training course.

The affair illustrates the monumental size, not to say hopelessness, of Untac's task in seeking to implement the peace agreement signed by the four Cambodian factions in Paris 15 months ago. The murderous Khmer Rouge has already withdrawn co-operation; by taking the law into its own hands, the UN is acknowledging that the Hun Sen government, which controls most of the country, is also failing to play its part. Mr Em's is the first of several cases of alleged political intimidation Untac says it is prepared to bring if the Phnom Penh authorities fail to do so.

Thun Saray is all too familiar with the problems of attempting to plant the concept of human rights in a nation which has known none for at least two decades. 'Even the victims of violations find it normal,' he said.

A 42-year-old economist, who was jailed by both the Khmer Rouge and the present government, he spent a period in hiding recently after his establishment of the Cambodian Human Rights Association attracted death threats. Now, from his headquarters - a half-built house in the grounds of a Buddhist temple - he is trying to acquaint his fellow Cambodians with their rights before it is too late. Apart from training courses and pamphlets the association, which has 22,000 members, is using traditional forms to get its message across in rural areas. Ay-ai - sung dialogues which usually speak of love - are being rewritten to convince voters their ballots will be secret.

'This is the last chance for Cambodia,' said Mr Thun. 'We must not sit back with folded arms. We must take this opportunity. If the biggest operation the UN has ever mounted cannot save this country, nothing can.'

Mr Thun and his followers, however, are among the relatively few Cambodians willing to suppress their fears and work openly with Untac. The outcome of its attempt to take over the country's legal system in all but name will be closely watched.

TOKYO - Japan will give portable radios and radio-cassette-recorders to Cambodians so that they can listen to United Nations news programmes on their planned general elections, Tokyo said yesterday, Reuter reports.

It plans to donate 40,000 radios and 1,000 radio-cassette-recorders to the Cambodian people through Untac, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?