PR Battles Fought in Cambodia Over Faraway Conflicts

A terrorist raises an ax and chops off the head of a hostage. A bearded professor is forced to lift his hand, and a man shoots off his finger. Over the footage, said to be real, a narrator paints a picture of a vicious army of terrorists, kidnapping and maiming with impunity in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

All of those elements are in­cluded in a video the Russian Embassy is showcasing for government leaders and journalists here. It appears to be part of a world­wide public relations campaign to world support for Russia’s war in Chechnya.

It may seem bizarre to try and win support for Chechnya in far-away Cambodia. But Russia is not the only country to dispatch its diplomats to fight a public relations battle in a country with no involvement in the dispute.

The Cuban Embassy here recently sent out unsolicited copies of a 63-page booklet aimed at winning support for their crusade to gain the return of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s mother drowned when their boat capsized on the way to Florida, and now he is living in the US. His father in Cuba has asked for his return. But, lobbied heavily by anti-Castro Cuban immigrants living in Florida, the US has so far refused to return him.

“Roundtable with psychologists, psychiatrists and other specialists on the serious consequences that could be entailed for the kidnapped child Elian Gonz­alez if he is not returned immediately to his homeland,” the booklet reads on the cover.

The Russian video, meanwhile, was shown to policymakers here from the ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Defense in November at the Russian Cult­ural Center, a Russian diplomat said. In addition, they have been exhibiting oversized, full-colored photographs of young Russian soldiers posing with little children and helping refugees.

“Everybody must know,” the diplomat said. “It’s a question that is of int­erest to everybody. This is a crisis in Russia, and Russia is a superpower. Every day the Bangkok Post publishes stories from Chechnya.”

Russia has been criticized by human rights groups and members of the UN. And much of the press coverage has been negative. Critics have complained that Russia is using indiscriminate force in Chechnya, and that civilians are caught in the middle.



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