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“Land Clearing Ongoing as Authorities Say Stop”

By: Norbert Klein Posted: January-21-2011 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 699

One of the most surprising international news of the week relate to Tunisia, an Arab country; with about 10 million people it has a smaller population than Cambodia. After 23 years of a strong-handed government, large scale protests against unemployment and corruption led to turmoil. These problems were not new. By the time of this writing – about 100 people have lost their lives.

The wave of protests had been triggered by the suicide of a student, who used to sell fruits and vegetables from a pushcart to support himself and his family – parents and siblings. But the police confiscated his merchandise, as he had no license as a seller. He had been harassed also before. When he protested, he tried to complain also at higher level offices, but as he did not find any response, he committed suicide as his last protest.

Was the action of the police, to confiscate the vegetables, legal? Yes. According to the rules, to sell thins on the road requires a permit. Was the action legitimate? This is a much more difficult question. His effort, to support himself in a modest way, surely is legitimate, even laudable.

In one of the international radio commentaries about the events in Tunisia, it was said that a society cannot be stable in the long run if the majority of the people do not have the confidence that the laws and their application are finally leading to justice. When this confidence is eroding, the government has either to take action either to provide more justice to more people – or to repress those who oppose the government’s policies, or those who are desperate as they have lost hope that justice will prevail. The government of Tunisia chose to latter way – until the anger of a large number of people exploded and the president fled the country.

The Mirror has frequently taken up questions about the role of law in Cambodia. That is also the reason for referring to the recent events in Tunisia.

Events during the second phase of the World Summit for the Information Society, held in Tunis in November 2005, presented to the more than one thousand international participants an orderly city – with armed personnel placed visibly all over town, human rights offices were closed or made in-accessible to international solidarity visitors, and the national television transmission of the opening ceremony suddenly had “technical problems” for some minutes, while a government delegate from a participating country raised human rights questions during the same ceremony; any semblance of a free press did not.

So the situation of Tunisia and the situation of Cambodia are quite different.

All the more it is important to consider events which might lead towards a situation which might lead to deeper frustrations of many people in the country, so that some might lose hope in despair.

Some regulations and laws are being violated and broken in every country. This happens for different reasons. A member of the police, who is allowed to legally carry arms when on duty, fired his gun into the air, off duty, at a restaurant, and presented as his excuse that he was drunk. – A man who attacked a women with acid said, “Even though I knew that my act was illegal, I still did it because I was angry.” – It should not happen, but it happened in situations of emotional confusion.

- But on 13 January 2011 it was reported that the Mong Reththy Group ignored instructions from the authorities in Preah Sihanouk province to stop clearing disputed land, as the villagers said the company was displacing them without paying compensation. “We intervened to stop the company temporarily from affecting the families. We contacted the company to solve the problem, but the representative ignored and continued clearing,” said the chief of the Stung Chhay commune in the district of Kompong Seila.

- The chief of the Omlaing commune in Kompong Speu said, “I am bringing the villagers’ demands to be addressed before the provincial authorities for a peaceful resolution. Whenever villagers oppose a land swap, the authorities and the company cannot force then to accept it.” About 100 families have a dispute with a sugar company owned by the Senator Ly Yong Phat – some refuse the land swap because the new land offered is far away, and others, who had accepted to relocate, claim that the agreed upon compensation was not paid.

- And there was the surprising story, that a person – the former head of the police in the Province of Ratanakiri, serving a 13 years prison term – was involved in a road accident, while driving a car (there is also the claim that he was not the only person in the car and somebody else drove). Three people on a motorcycle were severely injured and are now being treated in Vietnam. The former police chief was sent to prison in 2006 for having taken bribes and causing damage to the environment, while wood worth US$15 million was cut. And it is claimed that the director of the prison allowed him not only this time, but regularly, to get out of the prison temporarily, without ever involving a court to obtain an extraordinary permission to do so.

These three stories have one element in common: there are people, who know better, but who do not care for the law. They actively disregard the law.

But how can a society function without the basic trust that to live in the same society, to work together, to maintain human relations, means to trust that laws and regulations and agreements are being kept, especially by those who have taken on special responsibilities of oversight to keep and to protect them?

If not – then such situations are then called “failed states” with “failed societies.” Anybody who does not want such a future to happen, will have to help to build trust – to help so that laws and rules are kept, providing a trusted framework within which human relations and social development to grow.

= = =

Apologies, again, for the delay.

Though this text was written on 20 January 2011, it will be filed under the date of last Sunday, 16 January 2011, to maintain the practice of end of the week reflections. In content, it relates mainly to events in the week before Sunday, though some lines from the subject dealt with were drawn into the present week.

Thanks for the manifold greetings and good wishes for my recovery.

Norbert KLEIN

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 699 – Sunday, 16.1.2011
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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