UN struggles to change Cambodia's ways

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The Independent Online
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 The murderous Khmer Rouge has already withdrawn co-operation; by taking the law into its own hands, the UN is acknowledging that the Hun Sen government, which controls most of the country, is also failing to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.