Interior Ministry Won’t Permit Darfur Ceremony

The Interior Ministry will not al­low a US-based group led by ac­tress Mia Farrow to hold a ceremony in Phnom Penh aimed at calling attention to the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, an official said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the plan by Olympic Dream for Darfur to light a symbolic torch at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum Sunday was inappropriate.

China is a major Sudanese trade partner and Beijing, which is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, has been criticized internationally for not using its economic leverage to apply pressure on the Sudanese government to bring peace to Dar­fur, where an estimated 200,000 people have died since 2003.

“The Olympic games are not a political forum,” Khieu Sopheak said by telephone, adding that the Dream for Darfur Olympic torch ceremony is a political event.

“We will not allow it because it is not the Olympics in Cambodia,” he said.

Khieu Sopheak declined to say whether the Interior Ministry had officially banned the event or what action would be taken should the group proceed with the ceremony.

“We do not cancel [the ceremony], but we do not allow them to do it,” he said.

Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said the government should be providing security for the Dream for Darfur ceremony rather than preventing it.

He said he was uncertain why the Interior Ministry decided not to al­low the event, but that as a sovereign country, it would be wrong for Cambodia to succumb to the will of another country.

“If China has influenced the government to stop this peaceful march it’s not good—it’s worse than the government making the decision by itself,” he said.

Dream for Darfur’s world tour has garnered a lot of media attention and the government’s actions to­ward Sunday’s ceremony will be noticed internationally, Thun Saray said.

“It’s a bad sign to the outside world because Cambodia claims it’s a democratic society,” he said. “It’s not good for the image of Cambodia.”

The Interior Ministry’s announcement comes one day after US Am­bassador Joseph Mussomeli voiced concerns about the government’s rumored cancelation of the ceremony. Mussomeli said that the Olym­pic torch ceremony was not directed against China, adding that it would be “disappointing” if the Cam­bodian government canceled the ceremony.

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Tuesday that the Em­bassy had said all it wished to say on the matter.

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith wrote by e-mail Tuesday that he had been informed that the Chi­nese Embassy was unhappy with the planned ceremony, but referr­ed questions to the Phnom Penh Municipality.

A diplomat with the Chinese Em­bassy wrote by e-mail Tuesday that Dream for Darfur’s ceremony, which he claimed is politically motivated, goes completely against the spirit of the Olympic Games.

“Olympic Dream for Darfur claims that they just want to boost the international concern about Dar­fur issue, but from what they have done, they have a very obvious political purpose,” the diplomat wrote on condition of anonymity. “The Chi­nese side has very clear opposition to that.”

The diplomat also wrote that both the UN and the International Olym­pic Committee have stated that the Olympic Games in Beijing have no­thing to do with the crisis in Darfur.

“[W]e firmly oppose to link [the] Darfur issue with Beijing Olympic Games,” he wrote.

Municipal Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said that he was un­aware of the event at Tuol Sleng mu­seum, adding that the municipality had not received a permission re­quest from Dream for Darfur.

Theary Seng, executive director of the Center for Social Develop­ment, which is co-hosting the ceremony with Dream for Darfur, said the Interior Ministry’s withholding of permission was due to a misunderstanding.

“It’s a matter of clearing a misunderstanding,” Theary Seng said, adding that she had received ap­proval for the ceremony from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

Theary Seng said she could not speak for Dream for Darfur’s activities in other countries, but in Cam­bodia the focus of the event would not be China.

“The Cambodian event is foc­used on survivors—on Darfur,” she said, adding that the Dream for Darfur delegation is still coming to Cambodia.

According to Dream for Dar­fur’s Web site, the torch-lighting ceremonies, which have been held in several countries touched by genocide, are being organized to bring at­tention to China’s relationship with Sudan ahead of the Olympic Games.

“As Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Olympics, join us in urging China to use its leverage to persuade the Sudanese government to allow a civilian protection force into Darfur,” the Web site states.

“Developments of recent months strongly suggest the growing success of our campaign to hold China accountable for its complicity in the Darfur genocide,” it adds.

   (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

Related Stories

Exit mobile version