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Cambodian election likely botched by Khmer Rouge memories

Thom Calandra
0 Comments|August 1, 2013

"In the overseas news there were images of burning cars; however in fact only two pick-up trucks were burned in an isolated incident in the city"
I recall a few months ago, chatting with a United Nations representative in Phnom Penh, about this patch of the world.
She was advising the U.N.-supported panel sorting through Pol Pot's mass killings in Cambodia. The massacres resulted in 2.2 million Cambodians dead. That was during the late leader's 1975-79 communist government, Khmer Rouge.

Cambodians are still seeing red, as they should be. Many say Khmer Rouge memories, call them what you will, influenced what looks like this past weekend's botched national elections.

This woman, in her 40s, I met in a swimming pool atop an apartment building in the capital. An Australian of Swedish background, she explained there were many layers of operating legacies the Khmer Rouge left behind after all these years.

She was definitely getting worked up, that sunny afternoon. Precise and forceful, in her swimsuit. 

I was in the Kingdom to tend to one of our TCR 8, Angkor Gold. (Photo - Thom Calandra credit of Mike Weeks at school ceremony; also, many more images here -- credits Thom Calandra, Delayne Weeks, J-P Dau)

This lawyer questioned whether the current government, which barely scraped by amidst charges of a rigged election Sunday, was doing enough to rid its ranks of aging Khmer Rouge who back then supported those mass killings. Or at least did nothing to stop them.

I wondered. Reading some of the histories in airport lounges and bookshops, I learned that only 12 people had survived K-Rouge's Toul Sleng S-21 jail in Phnom Penh. That is the horrific one all the tourists go to see.

Of (at least) five senior Khmer Rouge leaders known to be living, most in their 80s, four are supposedly secluded in the western jungles of Cambodia. The tribunal convicted one senior leader several months ago.

The layers that lawyer described to me look like they will keep getting peeled back for lots of years, and elections, to come. 

Hun Sen for instance, the 60-year-old who leads his Cambodian People's Party (CPP), is said to have been an ex-Khmer Rouge battalion commander. He eventually fled to Vietnam and brought back the rescue party.

Hun Sen is now in deep muck, playing net ball with allegations that his party manipulated (for an umpteenth time since 1985) electoral rolls this past weekend. Few businessmen in the country expected his CPP to be the subject this election of blatant election rigging. Watchdog agencies seem to agree the CPP played a heavy hand this time around.

Still, everyone knows Hun Sen as a blunt man -- a man who put many of his former colleagues in place at local, provincial and national levels -- administrative, police, transportation, prison system, agriculture, ministries.

There are other legacies. One of them just occurred. A family of three several hours ago, according to a report, was blown to bits just a bit north of the capital. Land mines from that era dot Cambodia. 

Naturally, our folks, the people at Angkor Gold (V.ANK in Canada), are providing perspective. CEO Mike Weeks, his operating assistant, Jon-Paul Dau, and Mr. Weeks' wife, Delayne Weeks, are over there now. They are joined by a long-time Cambodia businessman, Australian Richard Stanger, who started the predecessor to Angkor Gold, Liberty Mining.

Mr. Stanger sits on several quasi-government panels that are revising commerce rules, mining codes and business practices.

"In the overseas news there were images of burning cars; however in fact only two pick-up trucks were burned in an isolated incident in the city," says Mr. Stanger.  "All is calm here now." 

He continues. "All of this was not well reported and biased to the opposition in content. In fact both parties reported many people missing from the electoral roles. As far as I can determine, the allegations of ghosts on the electoral roles is unsubstantiated as well. The ruling CPP still is in government and the opposition now have a larger majority, that's all."
Mr. Weeks, the Angkor CEO, says this is an example of democracy at work. Well, I am not so sure.

TCR members know I tend to sidestep political risk. Or find opportunity in it. Thus far I have suffered -- Mali for one. 
I own Angkor Gold shares, and I am in love with the country and the projects Angkor has identified. So I am not going anywhere. But a democracy? I don't think so.

Said Mr. Dau, a Canadian who lives in the capital with his family and often rides his motorcycle across the city, "Not like what some of the media has stated, keep in mind that the opposition also can play dirty. The way it sits right now is the best thing moving forward for the next couple of years and that is the general sentiment floating around from both supporters."

We shall see. I intend to get back to Cambodia in early January with Mr. Weeks and his team, who also contribute to a charitable foundation and assist in the building of water tanks, schools, bridges and health clinics among other things.
Still, I leave you with the words of the lawyer in the pool, when I asked, in our conversation, what she thought about business people who were looking for new frontiers in this part of Asia -- like Myanmar for example. Oh, she said, Burma.

'Look, you are only seeing the start of ethnic violence over there. Anyone who thinks reformation happens by decree deserves everything they get.'

By the way, as one reference, I like to look for older content that still makes sense years later. I ran into this review of the Khmer legacy and the subject of the nation's text books.

Briefly: Waiting for Gold-ot, or something like that. Okay, I am no Sam Beckett. Waiting for the next gold shoe to drop. Or not. The metal looks poised to continue a run higher this week and next. If it does not, I am still there. ... Please spread the TCR word. We are on the cusp.  Recent purchases include Namibia Rare Earths. ... Happy Birthday to TCR family member Gemma Bean. 


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