10 Years Later, Effect of Peace Accords Evident

kuon damrey, Banteay Mean­chey province – The people have come back to live along the road between Malai and Banteay Mean­chey town.

There are few signs of the decade the government troops and the Khmer Rouge spent battering each other from the sharp mountain peaks that break up this wide, hot plain filled with marshes and rice fields.

Nuon Chan Thy remembers feeling exhausted as the 1980s ended, closing two decades of civil war in Cambodia. A government soldier since 1983, he had fought the Khmer Rouge across fields, the names of which—the Ele­phant Head or the Dead Tiger—remain today a legacy of the brutal years following the 1979 Viet­namese ouster of the Khmer Rouge.

“The war took many forms—in the rice fields or in the jungles,” said the 41-year-old, now deputy commander of the training de­part­­ment for Military Region 5 in Battambang.

“Sometimes we knew where [the enemy] was and we am­bushed them. Sometimes they ambushed us. It was very fierce. We didn’t have enough assistance or enough to eat.

“I always thought I would die.”

But during the 1980s the international community and members of Cambodia’s warring factions were taking halting steps toward bringing the country back together. As October 1991 drew to a close, a peace agreement was negotiated and the fighting stopped, at least temporarily.

“I was very happy to hear about the peace,” Nuon Chan Thy said. “No one forced me to join the army so long ago. I wanted to keep the Khmer Rouge from ta­king over the government again, but every time I went to the field, death was on my mind.”

In the decade since the Paris Peace Accords were signed—the 10th anniversary is this Tuesday—Cambodia has struggled through a UN-sponsored administration that some claim did more harm than good, two widely condemned national elections, and sporadic factional fighting that continued until 1997, when Prime Minister Hun Sen and his CPP used force to cast aside its coalition partner, the Funcinpec Party.

“In the end the implementation of the Accords represented a betrayal of the will of the Cambodian people, who in May 1993 voted massively and enthusiastically to put an end to the rule of the former communist CPP,” said opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

“Unfortunately, through intimidation…the CPP has managed to retain power and to remain the dominant political force in our country.”

But whether one calls it the democratic process or the heavy-handed rule of the CPP, most agree that a fragile political stability has settled over Cambodia.

“The country certainly has been moving forward….This came about only through national reconciliation, through some sort of power-sharing agreement. That is why we have peace,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, which will host a three-day conference discussing the Peace Accords beginning Sunday.

Others say Cambodia’s emergence from three decades of tumult is unfinished, and that social reforms have not followed the end of  political strife.

“The country has at least made a genuine peace, but the focus on social issues is the more important current challenge,” Kao Kim Hourn said.

“Reform is not always easy. The leaders of the current government are going to have to make some real sacrifices.”

If you go by statistics, Cambodia has improved since the Accords were signed. The number or people who live below the poverty level is down to about 36 percent from a 1992 high of 40 percent, according to Urooj Malik, country representative for the Asian Development Bank.

“Within the last 10 years, the reforms have been considerable,” said Malik, who has lived inCambodia since the early 1990s.

But statistics can’t accurately gauge the desperation felt by the country’s impoverished, or measure how heavily one politician will lean on another as they jockey for position or favors, one senior government official said.

“Even 10 years after the Accords, the poverty is still there, and the political parties are still exerting too much pressure over the government,” said You Hockry, co-Minister of Interior. “In general, we have a much more open society, but security and stability are not 100 percent.”

Cambodia also remains a country largely dependent on donor money, a trend that began with the UN’s unprecedented $2 billion mission in 1992-93.

In June, the international community pledged $615 million for the next year to bolster Cambodia’s ailing economy and try to build  its social service sector. The government’s critics accuse its leaders of relying on these annual “handouts” from the donors rather than build an economy that works.

Sam Rainsy,  the government’s harshest public critic, said: “Deforestation, drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling and money laundering are the main industries behind ‘economic growth,’ but no sustainable development can be achieved.”

Both Kao Kim Hourn and You Hockry agree that reforms should be taking place faster, but Kao Kim Hourn points out that at least Cambodia is no longer isolated from either the region or the world.

You Hockry said that, despite their flaws, the Accords did ultimately pave the way for Cambodia’s current moves toward democracy.

“We cannot compare to the democracy of the US, but they’ve had 200 years to do this and we’ve had to go step-by-step. In the 10 years since we’ve had nothing, democracy is growing.”

(By Thet Sambath, Lor Chandara, David Kihara and Seth Meixner)




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