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October 23 marks an important date in contemporary Cambodian politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union dried up its long-running military support for Vietnam’s military operations and without Soviet support, Vietnam had no choice but to completely and unconditionally withdraw from Cambodia.
In July the Mekong River, the precious lifeline for four Southeast Asian countries and China’s Yunnan Province, fell to its lowest levels in 100 years, the victim of increasing climate change, agricultural runoff and a plethora of upstream dams that threaten its existence.
This year’s environmental news kicked off in grisly fashion: a Vietnamese poaching gang recording one of its members straddling and punching a snared and presumably dead tiger (the Thai authorities say they have caught the perpetrators) in one of Thailand’s protected areas.
The roar of the tiger has been replaced by the growl of the chain saw in Northeastern Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, along with the honking of great hornbills, which has been supplanted by the chirping of crickets.
Representatives of civil society organizations from nine ASEAN nations have been meeting for the past two days in Bangkok, seeking ways to fast-track implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in what has to seem like an uphill struggle.
Tensions are rising between local Khmers and Chinese in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville and elsewhere in the country to the point where Prime Minister Hun Sen recently said that “Chinese will not live in Cambodia” in an effort to assuage public misgivings about the now-heavy Chinese presence in the Kingdom.
Environmentalists say they are ready to “blacklist” Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, beset by illegal logging in all but its most distant sections.
Famous for its beautifully-preserved French colonial architecture and its wide, slow-flowing river that spills into the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia’s Kampot Province has an almost dreamy quality about it.
A tropical rainforest paradise in Cambodia that I visited in 2010 to see a riot of wildlife including Black Giant Squirrels (Ratufa bicolor), a flock of about 75 green parrots that went up in a cloud of emerald splinters, and dozens of raptors swarming overhead has disappeared, replaced by an oil palm plantation.
Over recent weeks, the situation in Cambodia has turned nasty beyond words. The man in charge, Hun Sen, as been in power for 33 years, rising to the Premiership in 1985 at the age of 32. Now the country’s president, he is 65 years old and swears he will stay in power for at least another 10 years.
Bigger. Higher. Larger. These are the new catchwords for the Cambodian business community and politicians when it comes to construction in a country dominated for centuries by Buddhist grace and delicacy.