The Road to Recovery

Cambodia Rebuilds in the Aftermath

Cambodia still has a way to go before it regains the momentum it had built before last year’s factional fighting, analysts and government officials said this week. But one year later, the country ap­pears to be gradually recovering.

“To the government’s credit, Cambodia has achieved a level of success,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cam­bodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “Cambodia has succeeded in coming out of the pit that we were in in July [1997]. We are looking at a brighter future.”

Government officials set their sights on recovery soon after the events.

To improve security, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen an­nounced an eight-point plan that included cracking down on gangs and drugs, removing illegal checkpoints, limiting bodyguards and banning tinted windows on vehicles.

Security experts said this week that despite several high-profile kidnappings, security in the capital seems better now than it was in the weeks before the fighting, when guns and troops filled the city and bunker positions were being built.

“People were trigger happy,” said security consultant Mark Bowman. “You don’t have that now. To me, it’s better.”

Tourism is also slowly re­bounding. Although statistics show that visitor arrivals still lag about 35 percent behind 1997, Tourism Ministry and private sector promotional workers say the initiatives are boosting the country’s image abroad.

Chris Ho, one of the driving forces behind a promotional campaign called “Back in Business—Seeing is Believing,” said he thinks the “fam tours”—familiarization tours organized for foreign travel writers to learn about Cambodia—have succeeded. “They are coming away with a positive impression and writing about that,” he said.

Cambodia’s image suffered after the fighting—not just among tourists, but among the international community as well, with the government losing the UN seat and Asean deciding to delay Cambodia’s entry into the regional body.

But Svay Sitha, an adviser to the Council of Ministers, said he believes government political concessions—such as UN monitors for opposition politicians returning home, and deposed first prime minister Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh’s trial and subsequent amnesty—have helped soften opinions.

“We have seen that after the events of July, the credibility [of Cambodia] has gone down a little bit,” Svay Sitha said Friday. “But it has risen up again.”

Kao Kim Hourn also noted the recent convergence of opinion about the upcoming elections among the divergent interests of the international community, which he called a “dramatic difference” from several months ago.

The final hurdle to recovery, officials and analysts say, remains the July 26 election. Peaceful and internationally recognized polls, they say, nearly assure Asean membership and the UN seat, while a new National Assembly will focus on economic development.

“You certainly can’t underestimate the potential dangers ahead; much can still go wrong,” said Kao Kim Hourn.

“But I think as soon as they move forward with the election, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.”



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