Phnom Penh-based diplomats said Wednesday that, while the ongoing stupa drama is riveting to watch, they doubt it will keep any donors from pledging money at next week’s Consultative Group meeting.
Japan, the single biggest donor country, has no official comment on the matter. France, another large donor country, said much the same thing.
“I know that vandalism exists, and I think it is a pity,’’ one Japanese diplomat said. “But we don’t really know who did it. And as long as we are not sure of the facts, we don’t want to comment.’’
Other diplomats seemed bemused. “This has been going on long enough that I don’t think another episode will make much difference to the donors,’’ one Western envoy said.
“There’s a certain internal logic at work here, but I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it is best understood by the participants.’’
Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said he wishes politicians would spend more energy on the serious problems facing the nation and less on symbolic struggles.
“I don’t know why we focus so much on the small stuff,’’ he said. “The government should just leave it there. I don’t understand why they are giving the opposition party such a platform.
“Why put Sam Rainsy on the moral high ground by destroying the stupa?’’
He said that while the stupa represents a solemn matter—the violent deaths of at least 16 people in the March 30, 1997 grenade attack—the struggle over it has become a soap opera.
“We should become more mature in our politics,’’ he said. “I hope that the donors would recognize that this is a small thing.’’
A human rights officer agreed the stupa is a symbolic message, but an important one nonetheless. He said it is normal in most countries for memorials to be constructed to honor so many killed at one time. He said the strong-arm tactics being used “exemplifies the lack of political development in Cambodia especially in regards to tolerance.”
He also criticized donors for applying a “kid gloves” approach to Cambodia concerning human rights. “They’re trying to convince themselves that Untac (in the early 1990s) was a success.”
(Additional reporting by Brian Calvert and Jeff Smith)