In much the same way as the A23 is thought to be the best thing about south London, because it’s the quickest way out, I’m thinking that Indira Gandhi International Airport is the best thing about Delhi. I’ve been struggling to think of positive things to think about the city, and coming up with very little. The pollution is insane, the traffic pestilential, the built environment horrid, and the denizens of the East Bengal Displaced Persons Colony are, to a man, miserable frowny dog-hating killjoys with bad attitudes and a full-blown tendency to try and run you over or rip you off.

Among the good things I’ve found, however, are the local ironing men, who occupy little patches between parked cars, and press clothes. Using a vast iron filled with hot coals, they’ll smooth out anything, beautifully, for peanuts. And I love the mobile stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, every few yards in the evenings, which are also amazingly cheap. I worked out the other day I can buy a dozen bananas and get eight shirts beautifully ironed, all for £1. Which even I can’t complain about.

Other things that have made me smile include the following:Abandoned

This notice, carefully painted on every side of a lavatory on a practically disused railway station near here seems otiose, to say the least. Because the gate is padlocked shut. Nevertheless, someone has gone to the trouble of painting the word ‘abandoned’ four times, neatly, in two colours, just in case anyone was tempted to climb over and relieve themselves, which, judging from many peoples’ bathroom habits here, is an unlikely prospect.

Or this mission statement from Delhi’s magnificently missing-in-action police force:

DelhiPolis

This seems a little, I don’t know, half-hearted? It could just as easily say “A step towards … being slightly better than useless.” Or “We’re not much good … but we might be one day.”

The other day I was out walking the dog through the grotty streets, when a man appeared and started remonstrating with me, because he alleged that Blossom had earlier allowed Harley, the Hammer of the Dogs, to crap on a garbage-strewn pile of rubble within sight of his ‘cloting shop.’ (He genuinely had not.) I mildly suggested that instead of bothering me, he go back from whence he came and resume the act of sexual congress with his mother, and he had to be pulled off me by passers-by.

But there is no doubt that many Indian men have a curious relationship with their mothers. Without further comment, I give you this:

‘Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is the author of a new book that uses data on the world’s Google habits as an insight into national consciousness.

 ‘The number one Google search in India that starts “my husband wants …” is “my husband wants me to breastfeed him.” Porn featuring adult breastfeeding is higher in India than anywhere else. In just about every country, just about every Google search looking for advice on breastfeeding is looking how to breastfeed a baby. In India, Google searches looking for breastfeeding advice are about equally split between how to breastfeed a baby and how to breastfeed a husband.’

 And that’ll probably do for today.

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The stamp of authenticity

November 30, 2017

I’ve occasionally wondered why I don’t have a tattoo. You’d think that, being an amiable idiot, I would be a perfect candidate. But I’ve never seriously entertained the idea. I think it’s because I love the idea of being able to change my mind too much to be able to commit to anything that permanent (and they’re pretty ugly too). Over the years, I might well have had ink that celebrated Van Halen, marijuana leafs, the Om sign, Fender Stratocasters and Fulham Football Club. But nothing’s set in stone.

Every now and then, I consider getting one with a Gibson Les Paul being eaten by a flaming skull-shaped Cadillac, with lightning bolts. But not that much.

Occupying the hinterland between permanence and impermanence, for me, are rubber stamps. I once got over the border from Kenya to Tanzania by getting a geezer to fake a stamp to say I’d had a yellow fever vaccination. A great pal of mine was asked, on his first day in the territory, for a chop, by a postman in Hong Kong, and proceeded to karate chop the pile of mail. Oh, how we laughed.

But last week, I was walking past a stall that sold rubber stamps, and I decided to get one made. For a quid. The message I wanted immortalised was one that has held me in good stead since forever. I originally had it made as a badge with my last 50 pence at Reading Rock Festival in 1983, and it’s always worked for me as a motto

So I shelled out £1, and had the stamp made, and the next day I got this back:

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Unless there is a spate of articles about immigrant birds into the UK, which is always a possibility with the Daily Mail, then that’s a quid down the drain. But you’ve gotta laugh. I certainly did. Anyone with a grievance against large grassland birds, I can do you a discount…

Democracy dies in Cambodia

November 20, 2017

Even though I don’t live in Cambodia any more, I still take a keen interest in what goes on there. I loved the precious little country, and am still amused, from a distance, by its cheerful venality and corruption.

Recent stories in what’s left of the English-language press in Cambodia have included these gems: ‘A Siem Reap deputy provincial prosecutor was released without charges last week after killing another motorist while allegedly driving under the influence and then trying to flee the scene. Deputy Prosecutor Samrith Sokhon drove his Lexus into a motorbike shortly after midnight … [dragging] the motorbike and driver almost 1,000 metres while trying to flee … Sokhon had been drinking. Despite all this, Sokhon was released, for reasons … influenced by his position. “After he crashed into the motorbike we arrested him and released him, because there was an understanding. Because we know him clearly; he works in the prosecutor’s institution.”’

And: ‘Police in Battambang province arrested an opposition CNRP official and sent him to the provincial court on accusations of illegal weapons possession, despite one officer admitting that they have not actually found the weapon he is accused of owning.’

But last week’s news that the Supreme Court of Cambodia has ordered the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party is, for me, practically the final nail in Cambodia’s coffin.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, often described as “pugnacious and dictatorial” is, in fact, one of the most evil men on the planet. In charge of the country since 1985, he is the world’s longest-serving prime minister, and one of the most corrupt, conscience-free, vicious, amoral, money-grubbing, self-serving tyrants ever to walk the earth.

The ruling effectively disenfranchises more than three million Cambodians who voted for the CNRP at local elections earlier this year, and clears the way for the ruling CPP to run unopposed at next year’s general election. In a televised address shortly after the ruling, Hun Sen said the court’s decision was based solely on the law, and promised that Cambodia would continue to “strongly adhere to democracy at the national level.” Cue the sound of hollow laughter.

This year Hun Sen has already arrested the head of the opposition, shut down one of the leading newspapers, kicked out American democracy-promotion groups, caused more than half the opposition politicians to flee the country and ranted, harassed and defamed the opposition. It would be inaccurate to call his party ‘the government’; it is, by any standard, a patronage network, and one from which he has cheerfully milked billions of dollars for himself and his family over the years.

Amnesty International called last week’s decision “a blatant act of political repression.” The International Commission of Jurists also attacked the ruling, noting that the president of the Supreme Court occupies a seat on Hun Sen’s party’s highest decision-making body, and is a close personal friend of the prime minister.

The international community has, since the early 1990s, spent tens of billions of dollars trying to make Cambodia a democracy. They might as well have gone out and just bought themselves a new hat, for all the good it’s done. Now, in response, the US says it will withdraw its funding from the Cambodian National Election Committee. Which will clearly have Phnom Penh quaking in its boots. Otherwise, nothing from the international community. Rather confusingly everybody’s favourite American, Donald Trump, has been cosying up to Hun Sen, who has clearly drawn inspiration from Trump’s playbook when it comes to his attitudes to the press, and to the truth.

Trump:Hun

China, on the other hand, has been supportive of the court’s decision. Over the past 15 years, Chinese cash has bankrolled bridges, highways, hydropower dams and property developments (although rarely schools or hospitals), entirely decoupled from demands for human rights or good governance. In exchange, Cambodia has been happy to be China’s poodle, and support China’s positions on a range of issues, from Taiwan and Xinjiang separatism to the South China Sea.

It’s like Eisenhower’s Domino Theory has come true: there now isn’t a genuine democracy anywhere in mainland Southeast Asia: Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos; now Hun Sen has extinguished the final beacon of democratic light in the region. It’s 2017, but things are getting increasingly dark in my favourite part of the world.

It hurts my very heart.

A number of people have suggested that I have, indeed, become too grumpy of late: not that I’ve seen anyone I know for the last six months, but apparently they can tell from the general tenor of my emails and this blog.

So, in an effort to seem more cheerful, here are some things I’ve seen recently, as I walk Harley the Wonder Dog around my neighbourhood, that have made me smile.

There aren’t very many of them: it’s an entirely crappy neighbourhood, called Chittaranjan Park, which used to be the sonorously-named East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony. Despite it being fairly Indian middle class, it’s an armpit of a place: I have to keep my bedroom door shut to keep the rats out; the streets are ankle-deep in dogshit, the drivers are insane, and its all watched over by a cadre of super-miserable harridans who scream at you when your dog takes a leak against a flower pot.

But, in an effort to glean a pearl of pleasure from the shite-oyster that is life in Delhi, I present you with:

Eyebrow dog:

Eyebrow Dog

I don’t know what he’s actually called, or if he has a name at all. But, despite being comedy dog, he is practically the only beast who doesn’t try to take chunks out of Harley when he passes. So he makes me laugh, and he’s mellow. That’s as good as it gets.

And this is a shitty iPhone closeup. Those eyebrows are real…

EyebrowClose

Milk Bar Krishna

Milk Stall

There’s no point getting into my thoughts on Hinduism. But I do admire the way people here integrate their religious beliefs into their daily lives. I’ve been party to any number of ceremonies in the office, or in the electrical junction room, where people chant, and wave incense and seem to take it entirely seriously. And they’ve always welcomed me, despite everything. So I liked this little religious figure, sitting on a disused cold milk shop, for no other reason.

Dog Shit

Dogshit

I just thought this was a curiously straightforward message, in a land known for its sesquidpedalian circumlocutions. Needless to say, I am the only person within 2,500 miles who actually carries plastic bags with which to enrobe the alimentary evacuations of my diminutive canine confederate. Because I’ll be damned if anyone can accuse me of making this country shittier than it already is.

And there’s the grumpiness again….

Grumpy old man

October 25, 2017

There used to be a truism trotted out by Old India Hands, that went something like: “Oh, India will drive you mad. You get to the airport, and think ‘I can’t wait to get back to Blighty.’ Then you arrive at Heathrow, and suddenly realise ‘I absolutely have to get back to India.’” Well, I’ve been pondering that. Because I think India may just have driven me completely around the bend.

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a fairly peaceable chap. I’m not a shouter, I keep my thoughts largely to myself: in short, I’m quite a mellow proposition.

Well, not recently. Recently I’ve had meltdowns at taxi drivers, lost it in shops and been on the verge of doing bodily harm to innocent passers-by. I’ve gone off on waiters, mobile-phone salesmen, bank staff and random drivers. I’ve employed some of the fruitiest language ever heard in this region since Elphinstone’s retreat from Kabul; stuff I wouldn’t want my mother to know I knew. And I’m not proud.

But this country does it to you. And I can’t quite figure out why. I knew that India was hopelessly inefficient, populated by wage-taking babus with no incentive to do anything other than line their pockets and enforce stupid rules. But I thought I was used to that. But it seems not.

I went into a chemist’s shop the other day to buy a 20 pence tube of antiseptic (for my scores of necrotising mosquito bites, which haven’t helped my mood, along with my scurvy), and it took five people to serve me. Five! Then on the way out, I held the door open politely for a fat cow in a sari who looked at me haughtily and refused to say thank you. She heard a word from me her mother never taught her, I can tell you.

I was sitting in the living room of my grubby guesthouse yesterday, watching a tiny grocery shop over the road. It’s run by two brothers, young, pleasant enough fellows. And I was thinking that ‘gosh, they work hard, open from six am to eleven every day,’ and then I thought ‘no, actually that’s bollocks: they don’t. They sit on their stool all day gazing at their mobile phones, and letting even poorer people do all the work.’ Which is true.

But, but, but, but, but. They provide employment to half a dozen people. They probably don’t earn a fortune, but they make enough to survive, and they’re a valued part of the community. Probably. When did I decide that economic efficiency was the only measure of success? And, more importantly, when did I become such a shit? A spittle-flecked, puce-faced whiner, choleric and intolerant?

The truth is that India has worked some sort of weird and malign magic upon me. I need to get to the airport, and spend a week or two in Switzerland, or Finland, or somewhere cool and efficient. And then I’ll be fine. The truth is, this country wasn’t made for me, and I need to be able to remember that more often.

Forms and function

May 8, 2017

Well, I’m back. Sort of.

AngkorStockmore

Since I last posted here, there have been a number of changes in my life. The biggest is that I now no longer live in Cambodia. It turns out that my stupid lawyer didn’t bother to tell me that my appeal – against the giant fine the Cambodian judiciary imposed upon me for maligning a fat French paedophile – had passed, and that at the very least I had been banned from the country for five years. And this had occurred in February 2016. Clearly no one had told the immigration department. Or me.

But it seemed like it was a good time to leave. Blossom was pretty fed up with the place, Harley the Wonder Dog was miffed that all dogs have been banned from Phnom Penh’s parks, and, to be frank, I was kinda bored of the country.

So now we’re in India. Currently in Delhi, we’re going up to Ladakh (the Land of High Passes) for the summer, to write and ponder and be entertaining. I’ve always loved India, but it is a difficult place to get work visas for. But this new job dropped into our laps a few months ago, and he we finally are.

But the paperwork! After Cambodia, where you arrive at the airport, hand over some dollars and waltz in, this place is insane. The forms and interviews in the UK, just to try to get the visas were tough enough. Harley needed me to send 14 separate documents to get a certificate to get him through the airport, followed by an interview with some obscure government department after we arrived. I’ve been here nearly a week, and I’ve spent the whole time filling in forms.

I still don’t have an ID card. Bank accounts need a 20-page form. My Foreigner Regional Registration Office interview is still in the works. The tax stuff is utterly indecipherable. My employers have asked me for a copy of every page of every passport I’ve ever had. They just gave me a form in the last few minutes asking for details of my last six jobs, plus salaries, job titles, mother’s maiden name and job title and my blood type, among other things. And yet I’ve already signed a contract. I went to get some more passport-sized photos taken, and was told I needed at least 30 of them.

Yesterday I had to fill in two copies of a form. At the top were spaces for two identical photos of me, one on either side of the page. For god’s sake, why? For what possible reason can anyone need two identical pictures on one side of a piece of A4? Stupidity in stereo.

It’s lucky I’m a fairly relaxed sort of a chap, because this level of crazed hyper-bureaucracy could easily drive you mad. I’ll keep you posted, as long as I’m not inhabiting a padded room somewhere.

Scales falling

December 28, 2016

So, I’m back in Phnom Penh, for the time being. In the last couple of months I’ve been in the UK (surprisingly relaxed, I thought) the USA (surprisingly busy writing the longest suicide note in history with a single pen stroke) and India (surprisingly confident and happy and increasingly wealthy).

One of my problems, I’ve decided, is that I’m incurably optimistic. When I first moved to Cambodia, I worked with a man who turned out to be amongst the very stupidest people I’ve worked with. I mean fantastically, breathtakingly stupid. But for too long I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “Surely no one can be that stupid,” I thought optimistically to myself, as I watched him try to arrange prostitutes for his best friend, a racist from the Deep South of the USA whom he had never actually met. “People have got him wrong,” I thought, as I listened to him explain how he would deliberately not use sources for articles he typed for the newspaper. “He’s bluffing,” I’d think, as I watched him take bribes from restaurants in return for articles in the newspaper.

I finally came to my senses when he subbed a piece of wire copy, and mistook the name of the French president, Francois Hollande, for a reference to the country of Holland. The piece therefore started “The French President Francois the Netherlands …” and continued for 800 words substituting ‘the Netherlands’ for ‘Hollande’ in practically every paragraph. The scales finally having fallen from my eyes, I had him fired shortly afterwards, and the last I heard he was trying to flog newspaper ads in Rangoon and smoking too much crystal meth. So, as I say, I have a history of cutting people too much slack.

And, on reflection, I think I’ve done much the same with Cambodia.

I arrived here all starry-eyed, seduced by the heat and the fruit and the history and intoxicated by the music. But since I’ve been here, all that has fallen away, and now I see the country differently. I see the horrific pollution, and how no one cares in the slightest about improving things. I’ve seen the awful crushing poverty. I’ve seen the crappy roads, the abysmal infrastructure, the disease, the acceptance of terrible educational standards.

But most of all I’ve seen the grinding corruption, and the concomitant economic inequality. The Rolls Royce showrooms in a city full of people living on a dollar a day. The vast gated mansions occupied by minor customs officials, the army officers who own huge tracts of land, the scions of government officials who carry automatic weapons in nightclubs and will happily use them.

Recently there has been a minor furore here, after it emerged that Singapore said it has imported $752 million of sand from Cambodia, but Cambodia’s records showed it had only exported $5 million-worth. What happened to the other $747 million, one wonders?

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the director of an environmental group that has often campaigned against illegal dredging, said: “The companies, which in reality are no more than criminal syndicates working hand in hand with powerful government officials, declare a tiny portion of the actual sand exports. This allows them to make vast amounts of profits, which of course must be shared with those in government who provide ‘protection services’ to them.”

Ministry of Commerce spokeswoman Soeng Sophary said it was unfair to hold Cambodia to the standards of more developed countries. She neglected to explain why. I probably could, but instead I’m going to move somewhere else. Nobody here needs my help to fuck this place up any more than it already is. I can see that now. Finally.

 

 

 

Sax machine

October 19, 2016

I’m currently keeping a file on my computer desktop, to which I add stories from the Cambodian press which strike me as being particularly telling. I call it Ongoing Cambodian Stupidity. Lest anyone think that I have it in for Cambodia, I could clearly compile evidence of stupidity from almost anywhere. Brexit; Donald Trump; the Great British Bake Off – there is seemingly no end to muddled minds. But here are some more gems of sensible thinking from the Kingdom of Wonder.

A senior Forestry Administration official was released without charge after drunkenly killing a motorist with his car and leading police on a high-speed chase in Siem Reap province, because he had no “intention to murder” the victim, a court official said.

While “extremely drunk,” Yan Sideth hit a village security guard on a motorcycle. Police chased him for 13 kilometres. Despite police suggesting charges of speeding, drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving resulting in death, the chief prosecutor decided to release Yan without charge.

A prosecutor’s spokesman said that the victim had been at fault for driving in front of a speeding car. A spokesman for the Institute for Road Safety, said “It is always difficult to bring justice to victims when the provokers are powerful government officials or rich people,” he said.

Meanwhile Phnom Penh authorities said the chief monk of a pagoda was defrocked after being accused of “encouraging his disciples to drink, take drugs and fraternise with women.” The monk and four novices were defrocked after they were arrested for smoking crystal meth in the monastery. A spokesman said that “after the arrest of those monks, authorities found many empty beers hidden under the Buddha statue in the dining hall.”

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen recently sent a pair of direct messages to acting Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha, the first of which threatened “bloodshed” if protests confronted his eldest son in Australia, according to members of the opposition.

According to sources, the premier then said the party should remember what happened when anti-government protesters confronted him in Paris last October – a reference to the vicious assault of two CNRP lawmakers outside the National Assembly by soldiers from the premier’s personal bodyguard unit.

A party spokesman would only say the party had received a “threat to our safety.” He added that the party wanted the situation to “cool down” and would focus on encouraging supporters to register to vote.

And finally, for now, both Cambodia’s former King Norodom Sihanouk and Thailand’s late and much-lamented King Bhumibol Adulyadej were fluent French and English speakers and “shared a deep appreciation for jazz, making names for themselves as saxophonists.”

Despite being hugely important figures in the histories of their respective countries, the two were not particularly close. Apparently Bhumibol came to consider his Cambodian counterpart “a nuisance, in part because in 1954 Sihanouk apparently borrowed a gold-plated saxophone of the king’s and didn’t return it.”

 

Cambodia redux

September 7, 2016

As some of you may know, I’m not currently in the Kingdom of Wonder, and am working on finding somewhere else equally exotic to live. But, of course, I try and keep up with what’s going on back on the ‘Bodge. Somehow, from many thousands of miles away, some of what we take for granted in Cambodia seems even stupider and more unlikely. So here is an ongoing collection of things that have made me question how close Cambodia is to being a halfway functioning society, and not just a dim-witted semi-civilised satrapy dedicated to fleecing the west and eating its own entrails properly grown up.

Spanish activist and researcher Marga Bujosa Segado was recently deported from Cambodia for attending a protest, but before her deportation she was allegedly beaten by the police.

Police Major General Uk Heisela told a local newspaper that police officers were concerned when she started taking photos of them. “We were worried she might be a sorcerer and then take photos to do black magic on our stomachs,” he said. “Everyone knows the Spanish practice magic,” he said. “They can fly on brooms.”

I’ll say it again: “Police Major General.”

Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has released a statement attacking the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party for accusing the military of intimidation by running helicopter, boat and troop training exercises just outside the CNRP’s headquarters, where opposition leader Kem Sokha has been holed up for months trying to avoid charges of the awful crime of having an affair.

As a local newspaper put it, “several helicopters swooped repeatedly over the CNRP offices. At the same time, boats carrying soldiers moored close to the property, while convoys of masked soldiers armed with assault weapons drove past.”

It continues: “When the Post arrived in the early evening, 10 boats were still visible, including two moored close to the CNRP property. They drove away when approached by reporters.”

The military statement read, in part: “The spokesman would like to reject the accusation from those politicians and strongly condemn any people with the intention to ruin the honour of RCAF, which upholds a neutral stance in protecting sovereignty, territorial integrity and the legitimate government.” The ministry questioned how CNRP politicians could present themselves as protectors of the nation while criticising exercises to strengthen the military.

Meanwhile warehouse owners in Phnom Penh have called on the Ministry of Interior to investigate the capital’s economic police, claiming they have been hitting them up for bribes.

An officer with the Phnom Penh economic police denied the accusations, before then offering a Post reporter money to not publish the story. “We just go through their homes and warehouses and we have not done anything like what they accused . . . so please don’t publish it,” he said. “We could give you a small amount of cash monthly or we could give you office materials like books and pens. Those people are just not happy when we do our jobs . . . we don’t ask for their money, they just give it to us from the heart.”

Oh, Cambodia…

Business? As usual.

July 13, 2016

It’s been a strange and febrile week in Phnom Penh: how many times have I written that over the last few years? Last Thursday the anti-corruption NGO Global Witness published an outstandingly good and lavishly annotated report on the financial holdings of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.

Using only information publicly available via the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, the report said that Hun Sen and 26 other members of his extended family owned or part-controlled 114 companies with capital of more than $200 million, including firms with links to major international brands such as Apple, Nokia, Visa, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Durex and Honda.

And these were just the public face of the family’s commercial dealings. Most business in Cambodia isn’t registered. The Hun family’s land holdings were not taken into account, which would boost the value substantially. I’ve heard figures of up to $4 billion.

The report says three of Hun Sen’s children jointly own a power company that sells electricity to the national grid. Two of the country’s biggest petrol station chains are run by companies owned in whole or in part by members of the Hun family. Three popular TV stations, a radio station and one of the most-read Khmer-language newspapers are all run by Hun Sen’s eldest daughter, Hun Mana, who also has shares in the largest mobile phone network and owns a leading bottled-water firm.

The Hun family’s response was predictable: vitriol was poured upon Global Witness and the papers that reported the story. As to refuting any of the actual, you know, facts: well, they managed to miss out on that. Instead daughter Hun Mana accused Global Witness of “try[ing] to tarnish my Father [sic] reputation” ahead of next year’s elections. “Anyhow, we thank you for your destructive efforts, which as a consequence will help my father in the coming election as they are all lies and deceitful to confuse the public about what my Father has accomplished.” Hun Sen himself put a picture of the immediate family on Facebook doing shots. Which is also confusing.

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Meanwhile a government-approved news source published a cartoon based on a Nazi cartoon originally published in 1943, but with the heads of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin replaced with The Phnom Penh Post, The Cambodia Daily and Global Witness. I don’t really understand what they’re trying to get at with this: is the government trying to align itself with the Nazis? Do they not remember how that worked out for Hitler in 1945?

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Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told local media that “If you are not professional, we will take action on that one.” He went on: ‘“I don’t want the messenger to get killed, my friend,” he said with a laugh,’ according to the Cambodia Daily.

And lo and behold, on Sunday morning local independent political analyst Dr Kem Ley was shot twice, in the back and the back of the head, while drinking his morning coffee in a petrol station on a major junction in central Phnom Penh. He was 45 years old, married, with four children, and another on the way.

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Kem Ley had recently criticised Hun Sen’s family following the release of the Global Witness report, telling VOA Khmer that the report provided clear information about how Cambodia really works and should be used to benefit the country through investigations by the anti-corruption unit, the National Audit Authority and the National Assembly.

kemley-855

The alleged gunman was quickly arrested. He apparently told police his name was Choub Samlab, which means “meet to kill” in Khmer. The 38-year-old said he killed Kem Ley because he owed him $3,000.

There are a number of inconsistencies here. How an itinerant farmer came to lend one of the country’s leading political analysts a large amount of money is confusing. How he thought that shooting him (with a $2,500 pistol) would get him his cash back is also a point of discussion. Why none of either parties’ families or friends had heard of the loan is a possible issue. But the government has promised a full and independent investigation. So that’s all right then.

It’s not as if full and independent investigations have failed before in Cambodia, as in the shootings of labour rights activist Chea Vichea in 2004 or environmentalist Chut Vutty in 2012. So the country is on edge right now. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. The funeral, in a week or so, is likely to be a potential flashpoint. We’ll be watching closely.

 

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