Sticks and stones

October 28, 2015

Dearly as I love this wonderful little country, sometimes it’s just completely fucked up. On Monday, two opposition MPs were beaten unconscious outside the National Assembly building in central Phnom Penh by thugs employed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

A large crowd of idiots had gathered outside the National Assembly to protest the very existence of opposition MP Kem Sokha, for ‘inciting hatred between the government and opposition.’

“Kem Sokha is a political provocateur and he creates a culture of discrimination encouraging Cambodians to hate each other; he is a terrible person who has to be toppled from his position,” a protester, who identified himself as a CPP supporter, told a local newspaper.

The ruling CPP denied any involvement in organising the demonstration, despite CPP politicians being in the crowd, and Prime Minister Hun Sen warning the previous day that such a protest would take place.

After most of the protestors had departed, opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were dragged from their cars while leaving the Assembly and badly beaten.

From his hospital bed, where he was nursing a double arm fracture, a broken nose, chipped front teeth and horrific facial swelling, Kong yesterday spoke of his horror as “at least 10” heavy-set men attacked his vehicle as he attempted to leave the National Assembly. “They broke my car windows and dragged me out. I lost consciousness for a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think they were civilian; they were strong men, police or military or something, they were strong.”

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Photos on the internet showed both politicians bleeding heavily from their faces, as well as the severe damage caused to their vehicles, caused by protesters wielding metal bars.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Using a mob to attack opposition members of parliament sends a chilling signal to Cambodians that a new wave of political violence can be unleashed anytime and anywhere.”

CPP officials have denied the beatings were sanctioned by them, despite claims that police posted outside the Assembly watched as they were carried out.

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When asked why there were so few police in the area and the ones who were there did nothing except watch, the local commune police chief said officers had been relieved of their duties because the protesters had mostly left the scene. “[the protesters] dispersed and returned home, so our forces went for lunch,” he said.

The police also managed not to turn up at all during a six-hour-long attack on Kem Sokha’s house that afternoon, where a crowd threw stones, breaking many windows. Kem’s wife was inside during the attack.

Meanwhile, pro-government media outlets have published photographs of Cambodian soldiers along the Thai-Cambodian border rallying with signs saying “Kem Sokha is an inciter” and “Kem Sokha is a bad person who creates never-ending problems.”

The director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that the campaign violated both the Constitution and prohibitions on partisanship in laws governing the armed forces.

Sometimes this country terrifies me.

Sick of it all

October 19, 2015

Here is a story that in many ways typifies some of the things that are wrong with modern Cambodia; a story that would make you cry if you weren’t already laughing in disbelief.

Millions of dollars in aid given to Cambodia by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have reportedly been left sitting in a bank account for more than a year.

The money remains untouched because Cambodia’s National Malaria Centre is refusing to sign a funding agreement, because it objects to a request to provide detailed accounts of its spending.

What this means is that the NMC won’t spend the money it has been given, some $21 million over the past two years, because the Global Fund doesn’t want to see it all stolen.

The money was awarded as part of an urgent initiative to combat drug-resistant malaria in the Mekong region. A source close to the Global Fund told a local newspaper that the NMC’s decision could potentially put thousands of lives at risk.

“The management team at NMC has downed tools and taken the grant-making process hostage,” the source told the newspaper. “They have frustrated attempts to finalise grant negotiations because they don’t want to provide receipts for travel and hotel expenses. The government is sitting on a heap of money, crying there is a malaria outbreak, but refusing to do anything about it, unless they are allowed to steal the money.”

Officials at the NMC and Cambodia’s Ministry of Health have been ordered in the past to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Global Fund after they set up fake bank accounts to receive bribes and kickbacks.

The NMC’s impact on efforts to combat malaria has reportedly been severe. Malaria testing kits and drugs are running out. Earlier this year, $2 million worth of mosquito nets were purchased with Global Fund money, but have not been handed out because of the dispute over expenses transparency.

At the same time, figures show that the number of cases of malaria in Cambodia has increased by 35 percent in the first six months of this year.

The NMC’s alleged failure to carry out planned anti-malarial work could have global consequences. Millions of Africans died in the 1990s when a malaria parasite that had developed resistance to chloroquine spread to Africa from Cambodia.

In 2013 the Global Fund threatened to suspend or reduce more than $100 million of grants to Cambodia if it failed to meet a 30-day deadline to return funds identified as “misused.” It later changed its mind, saying that because a fraction of the money had been returned, it showed a desire to cooperate.