Monday, August 12, 2013

Balance B

Symmetry enough

Buddha shrine within vihear of the pagoda next to the ruins of Bakong, Roluos Group, Siem Reap, Cambodia 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sam Rainsy at Freedom Park

The CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) held a large gathering today at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh with Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha in attendance. This was the largest gathering of the CNRP in Phnom Penh since the pre-election campaign period. In the lead up to the gathering it was variously referred to as a meeting, a rally, a gathering to express gratitude and a protest by various sources. At least some of the international press seems to have settled on the word 'protest,' but to me it felt far less like a protest than a rally of sorts, with an atmosphere akin to a campaign event. Though there was plenty of party regalia in evidence (flags, stickers, hats, etc.) there were no protest chants, signs or placards. Both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha spoke, thanking their supporters and making various points about the party platform, the election, the alleged election irregularities, and the party's complaints, intentions and plans for protests, etc. Articles in the international press (link, link, link) have done a better job of explaining what was said than I could do here. Reported estimates of the crowd size varies between varies between 5000 and 15,000. It would be difficult for me to give an accurate estimate from my vantage within the crowd, but it was likely closer to the middle/upper end of the reported estimates. The atmosphere, like all CNRP events that I have attended to date, was happy, positive and energetic, though perhaps somewhat less exuberant than the campaign period.     

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha arrive at the rally.

 Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy

 The crowd

At the back of the crowd

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dreamt of a dead friend

A hard man to like.

Career soldier (Brit) and mercenary, retired. Veteran of the Malayan emergency. Did some work in Africa too. Lived in Singapore for years. A fat, alky, chain-smoking whoremonger and a teller of good stories. We lived in Sihanoukville for a few years back in the mid-90s when the wars were still on and there were but a few barang in the province.

We'd sit streetside at the town's number 1 brothel (Victoria), drink beer and talk shit. The taxigirls would tease me over hanging with the old man, calling him 'your father Chris.' (Actually, that began in 96. I had been working in the countryside for a couple of weeks and was in town for the weekend. Apparently it was a slow night at the brothel and a couple of the girls called me to come hang out and drink. I told them I couldn't because I was watching movies with Chris at his house that night. They said, "oh, you do whatever he tells you to. He your father?" Forever after that he was 'your father Chris.')

Anyway, he loved bird watching (real birds) and history books and old guns. He had a French MAT-49 he bought in Vietnam mounted on the wall of his bar in Sihanoukville that I don't think anybody knew was fully functional. I taught him how to use computer and helped him write letters to his aging mum back in England. He'd tell me how great Lee Kwan Yew was and I'd argue Singapore lacked civil rights. Drove him mad, those human rights arguments. He'd call me every few nights (when the phones were working) and say "Come drink with me you Commie bastard." And I usually would.

He introduced me to the Hash House Harriers and the quaint colonial tradition of mixing exercise with chugging beer. He got into petty wars with just about every other barang in town. But not me. Me he treated like a son.

A codger when he died suddenly back in July 2003, somebody sent me the news by email in Prey Veng where I was working the election. It threw me. I didn't see him those last few years before he died. He had moved to Chiang Mai. He never met my daughter. I wish he had. Meant to take her up there to show him, but somehow never got around to it.

The other night I dreamed I was in front of Monument Books in Phnom Penh, looked over and there he was on the ground doing sit-ups as part of a drinking game, cigarette hanging out of his mouth per usual. He saw me, jumped up, ran to me calling my name, smiling as he rarely would, and threw his arms around me. We hugged. (We never hugged in real life.) Arms still around each other I looked up at his face, overwhelmed with emotion and said, "But you’re dead." He looked confused. I said "in 94." He looked up as if he was trying to remember. I started to cry and said, "or in 97 or 98." I couldn't remember. I recalled talking to him on the phone from Phnom Penh during the fighting of July 97, unable to hear him for the noise of machine guns and tank fire down the street. 'It couldn't be 97' I thought, looking up at him again, tears streaming down both of our faces, him smiling but looking confused.

And then I woke up, face wet, alone here in my hotel room in Prey Veng.

RIP my friend.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Rumor Mill

The post-election rumor mill is in full swing in Cambodia, most, probably the vast majority easily proven untrue on even a little investigation. Some of the rumors are unconfirmable either way. This is nothing new to Cambodian elections. Rumor mongering has been a major part of the Cambodian election environment since the first elections in 1993. Clearly, such rumors are often designed to be manipulative and can contribute to an atmosphere of fear and anger and sometimes lead to violence. False rumors of soup poisoning during the 1998 post-election demonstrations probably contributed to some of the anti-Vietnamese violence that occurred. In 2003, I complained to several Cambodians about the sheer volume of obviously suspect rumors, asking, somewhat rhetorically, of some of my more educated Cambodia friends "why would you believe this garbage?" One man explained by saying “It’s all we have.” Given the state's tight control on Khmer language media, I had to admit he had a point. Information vacuums are breeding grounds for stuff like this.

The following are some rumors heard and collected before and after the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections. Many of the same rumors were told during different elections, sometimes with little or no variation. NONE of these rumors are from the current election, though you will probably find that some of these old rumors are being recirculated in various forms this election.

I repeat, NONE of these rumors are from the current election and most if not all are UNTRUE. DO NOT pass them on.

Chea Sim and a split in the party

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (1998)

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. The Hun Sen faction is trying to identify potentially disloyal military commanders and local officials. (2003)

There is a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (2008)

The USA backs the Chea Sim faction of the CPP. (2003)

The CPP Steering Committee held a secret meeting last week in which they voted 80 to 23 in favor of making Chea Sim Prime Minister. (2003)

Demonstrations and security

Opposition activists were part of the pro-CPP demonstration in Phnom Penh. The opposition activists committed some of the violence that occurred in order to make the CPP look bad. (1998)

There will be simultaneous demonstrations by the CPP and the losing parties in Phnom Penh, perhaps prompting fighting and riots. (2003)

There will be demonstrations and perhaps riots in Phnom Penh on and after August 8th, the beginning coinciding with the announcement of the election results. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around August 15th. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around October 15th. (2003)

The CPP was arranging to employ people in Svay Rieng to act as demonstrators in new demonstrations (possibly anti-American and/or pro-election) in Phnom Penh. (2003)

Opposition candidates and officers are quietly sneaking out of the country using overland routes to Thailand. (2003)

The police are preparing to arrest all FCP candidates, officers and activists. (1998, 2003)

Unexplained and seemingly random arrests of common people such as moto and cyclo drivers are occurring in Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

A travel permit system is being created and will be implemented in the near future. Its purpose will be to control and limit inter-provincial travel. (2003)

A new ID card or Family Book system is going to be implemented country wide. (2003)

Hun Sen

Hun Sen’s recent “very cruel” actions can be explained by his addiction to opium. He smokes it all the time in specially made cigarettes. Everybody has seen him smoke during his TV interviews. His driver says that he smokes two of these cigarettes on the drive between Takamao and Phnom Penh. (2003)

During the crackdown, some students and monks were fed to and eaten alive by crocodiles at Takmao. The people that live near Takmao could hear the screams. Two bags of heads (which the crocodiles could not or did not want to eat) were disposed of elsewhere. (1998)

Under pressure from recent events, Hun Sen is on an opium smoking binge. You can tell by his black lower lip. When he is binging like this he becomes very unpredictable. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Rumors of war

There has been a buildup of military and police in Preah Sdach and other areas of the Prey Veng province.(2003)

Regular military has been moved closer to Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay has gone to Battambang to recruit FCP soldiers. (1998)

The military, particularly the MPs, are preparing for something big, perhaps a move on Phnom Penh. They now have a list of opposition people who will be rounded up if something happens. (2003)

Phnom Penh is being secretly surrounded by soldiers and MPs. (2003, 2008)

Military forces have been concentrated around Phnom Penh in order to defend the city from opposition forces. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal are planning to lead several western provinces in secession from the country. (1998)

A plane dropped leaflets over Battambang that call for Prince Ranariddh to be removed from the head of FUNCINPEC. The leaflet purports to be from elements within FUNCINPEC, but people speculate that it is part of a CPP plot to sow division in FUNCINPEC.  (1998)

The US and rumors of foreign involvement

The US Congress has declared Hun Sen a war criminal. Congress is now waiting for the President to ratify the bill. (1998)

US warships and planes are preparing to attack Phnom Penh and arrest Hun Sen. (1998)

The USA is preparing to assist Gen. Neak Bun Chhay in a military offensive against Phnom Penh. (1998)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the negotiations in Siem Reap fail, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If FCP and CPP come to an agreement in Siem Reap, all SRP activists will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, Hun Sen will split the country militarily and set up an autonomous zone in the eastern provinces. (1998)

The US is sending an aircraft carrier to the region to help defend the SRP when SRP wins the election. (1998, 2003)

The US will attack Cambodia and oust Hun Sen if SRP loses. (2003, 2008)

Before the vote

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia in much greater numbers in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Village chiefs will organize people to ‘telegraph’ vote on Election Day. (2003)

Ballot boxes have been copied and will be used to replace the real ballot boxes when they are transported from the polling station to the counting center. (2003)

Blank ballots have been stolen from the printer by the CPP. Somebody inside the NEC has revealed the ballot stamps to the CPP. The CPP has already stamped and marked all of the ballots. Village chiefs will distribute the marked ballots to people on the night of July 26th. People will sneak the pre-marked ballot into the polling station, exchange it for the real ballot and drop the pre-marked ballot in the ballot box. (2003)

The CECs have received instruction to pre-mark the ballots for the ruling party. (2003, 2008)

The Vietnamese

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia, particularly in Prey Veng, in much greater numbers this month in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. They are settling in Pear Ro and Peam Chor districts. (2003)

Vietnam have moved artillery to the border area opposite Preah Sdach and aimed it into Cambodia. (2003)

The Vietnamese army has moved up to the border. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Vietnamese are serving poison soup at the market to try to kill Khmers. (1998)

Vietnamese are infiltrating into Cambodia for unknown purposes, perhaps to act as soldiers in hiding in preparation to support the CPP militarily in case of war, perhaps to dig wells for the CPP. (1998, 2003)

There is an underground force of ethic-Vietnamese police and soldiers, disguised as common people, who will be called on by Hun Sen if war breaks out. (1998, 2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in Battambang province over a month ago. (2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in hiding south of Phnom Penh. (2008)

Vietnamese troops are in Hun Sen’s compound at Takmao preparing to defend the CPP in case of war. (2003)

Vietnam is poised to attack Cambodia along the Prey Veng and Svay Rieng borders. (1998, 2003)

Vietnam will invade if there is any violence against the ethnic-Vietnamese in Cambodia. (2003)

Vietnamese voters were issued two, three, and sometimes as many ballots as they asked for at polling stations in Prey Veng. (2003, 2008)

Vietnamese in Preah Sdach district have been taunting Khmers, saying, ‘now your party loses, we win, you won’t get a seat.’ (2003)

There has been a sudden influx of illegal Vietnamese into the country, as the illegal Vietnamese already in Cambodia call their friends and relatives to come join them now that the CPP has won. (2003)