The British government on Tuesday become the second government, following the US, to issue a public condemnation of the Jan 22 killing of union leader Chea Vichea.
Speaking in the aftermath of Chea Vichea’s death, prominent members of the Alliance of Democrats called on Cambodia’s international donors to break their apparent silence on the recent rash of killings, which they claim are politically motivated.
The Alliance accused international donors of pledging millions of dollars to the country’s social and physical reconstruction, yet sitting on the fence while social activists are being killed.
In a strongly worded statement, Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien called on the government to “urgently” prosecute those responsible for Chea Vichea’s death and urged the country’s three main political parties to solve the political deadlock without “resort to political violence.”
“I call upon the Cambodian government to take steps to tackle the climate of impunity that exists in Cambodia by investigating urgently and prosecuting, in accordance with due process of law, those who have perpetrated this serious crime,” O’Brien said.
The US State Department, as well as several US senators and members of Congress, were quick to issue strong statements condemning the killing.
Government officials have cautioned that people should allow the police to investigate the killing and not jump to conclusions regarding a motive.
Funcinpec’s deputy secretary-general, Mu Sochua, welcomed Britain’s statement Wednesday.
The donor community was obliged to take heed of the thousands of voices who expressed their outrage at Chea Vichea’s killing and the culture that allows such acts to continue unpunished, Mu Sochua said.
“Saying ‘enough is enough’ is a cliche, but there is really a change after this killing…. We are not calling for demonstrations, we are calling for democracy,” she said.
“How much more can [donors] watch from [the comfort of] reading reports and visiting projects that work?” she said.
An Asian diplomat said that though the diplomatic community is largely silent, many diplomats believe that a political motive lay behind the killing of Chea Vichea. Though exactly what the motive was, or who it benefits, remains a mystery, the diplomat said.
The diplomatic community will probably continue its studied silence on such matters, said the diplomat, adding that Cambodia has been convulsed by similar incidents in the past 10 years. To withhold strong public statements has been largely the chosen approach with regard to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
“They are keeping fingers crossed and hope that the people, whoever is responsible, do not think that doing more [killings] like this is the best solution,” said the diplomat.
But events over the past year—which included the anti-Thai riots and now the killing of a union leader—have hurt Hun Sen’s international image, the diplomat added. Hun Sen “has lost his reputation as the man who could move mountains,” said the diplomat.
“Under the normal CPP scenario, he would have formed a government already. But now, six months later, it shows that he cannot control the situation.”
Japan’s Ambassador Fumiaki Takahashi, from the country that donates the largest amount of aid to Cambodia, said Wednesday his country would not interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
A Chinese Embassy official, who declined to be named, said he was not aware of any statement by his government.
A European diplomat said Wednesday public statements are not always the preferred means of communication. “The absence of public statements does not mean we are not concerned, and do not express our concerns” to the government, the diplomat said.
“This is purely the internal matter of Cambodia,” Takahashi said, following a meeting with opposition leader Sam Rainsy. “I strongly condemn the murder of Chea Vichea, a leading member of the labor rights and democratic movement in Cambodia. His death is a sad loss for social justice and democracy,” he said.
“We, of course, do not want to see any killings,” he added.
“Under the normal CPP scenario, he would have formed a government already. But now, six months later it shows that he cannot control the situation.” but that did not rule out the possibility of one in the future