Gov’t Pins Violence on Opposition

The government’s latest white paper blames opposition leaders for deaths and injuries in last month’s crackdown on anti-government protests, saying the opposition deliberately provoked violence as a tactical maneuver after losing the July elections.

The 45-page document, re­leased Friday by the Council of Ministers, said that when riot police armed with AK-47s and electric batons stormed a two-week-old protest camp, “the opposition forces finally got the violence that they had [been] trying to provoke for weeks.”

“It is true that some of the demonstrators were injured and a few even died,” the white paper said. “But where does the blame lie? With the police, who in many instances were outnumbered by demonstrators…or those who were using all means at their disposal to provoke confrontation?”

At least two people were killed and dozens injured during the confrontations between police and protesters Sept 7 to 15 after two weeks of opposition demonstrations against the election re­sults.

The white paper, entitled “The Defense of Young Democracy in Cambodia,” said the authorities should be praised for showing restraint in breaking up the protests, which the government had declared illegal.

“The police had no choice but to defend themselves against the rock-throwing mobs by all their means, including batons, water cannons and even by gunfire,” the paper said.

Funcinpec officials contacted Sunday said they had not seen the document and could not comment on it.

A statement from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Sunday denounced what it called the “outrageous and disgraceful argument…that the Sam Rainsy Party somehow caused the violence that the regime used against generally peaceful protesters.”

“Those who organize, order and carry out acts of violence are responsible for those acts, period,” the Sam Rainsy Party statement said. “The white paper uses the reasoning that dictatorships everywhere use to justify their acts of violence. Meanwhile, the tortured bodies of the regime’s victims go without a mention.”

Human rights workers are investigating reports of more than 20 bodies suspected of being those of missing demonstrators.

Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman, said the government has concluded that most of those bodies were unrelated to the demonstrations and that the reports were not included in the white paper because “it is not relevant.”

The document is the third white paper issued by the government since the July 5-6, 1997, military action that resulted in  Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh ouster as first prime minister. The first two white papers defended the government action of July 1997.

Khieu Kanharith said the government prepared the most recent white paper to counteract disinformation about the election and its aftermath.

“The Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec have spread a lot of confusion about the facts,” he said Sunday.

The paper was written by a group of Cambodian and foreign lawyers employed by the Council of Ministers, Khieu Kanharith said.

Much of the white paper deals with the July 26 elections, which it called a “triumph of democracy.” The paper said that opposition allies Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, having lost the elections and failed to discredit them, turned to demonstrations as their next tactic of obstructing the CPP.

“The opposition parties were successful only in turning what should have been a joyous occasion—millions of Cambodians exercising their democratic right to vote—into a negative situation, by refusing to form a government and setting forces in motion that would lead to tragic and unnecessary violence.”

“What began as a protest against the election became an attempt to overthrow the government and an incitement to assassinate Prime Minister Hun Sen…What had been a peaceful situation changed into a violent one,” the paper said. “None of this was by accident: As the events indicate, it was by design.”

The document singled out Sam Rainsy as having whipped up emotions with anti-Vietnamese rhetoric and encouraged violence. “Sam Rainsy was raising issues laden with emotion which had nothing to do with the election in order to provoke a violent confrontation.”

“Perhaps the most notable consequence of the demonstrations was the assassination attempt on the Second Prime Minister in Siem Reap,” the white paper continued. “In a society where strong words can easily lead to violent actions, the words spoken by Sam Rainsy could easily have been understood as instructions to attack Hun Sen, whether or not there was specific intent.”

The ruling CPP and opposition Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties have been locked in a public relations battle for months. Most recently, they have been seeking to influence international opinion of the July 26 elections, which were supposed to end Cambodia’s ongoing political crisis but have instead turned into another deadlock.

The CPP came in first in the polls, with 41 percent of the popular vote compared to Funcinpec’s 32 percent and the Sam Rainsy Party’s 14 percent. The opposition parties have refused to lend the support necessary to form a new government, however, calling the polls fraudulent, although independent observers have found no firm evidence of cheating.

Still, the National Election Committee has steadfastly refused to do the extensive recounts that the opposition and observer groups have urged.

The new white paper defends the appeals process, saying that there were more appeals measures in this election than in the 1993 UN-administered polls, which the CPP lost to Funcinpec.

“In that election, many irregularities were noted by the CPP, although the international media and the Untac authorities ignored its protests,” the paper said. “Many of the measures taken this year to ensure a free and fair election were based on the mistakes made in the Untac election.”

The CPP still considers itself to be the rightful winners of the Untac elections. One section of the white paper, titled “Election Protests: Then and Now,” seems to reveal similar feelings.

“After five years, we have justice for Cambodia. We do not need 20,000 foreigners and $3 billion to have a half-baked election. Cambodians have the energy, intelligence and willpower to hold a free and fair election for only $40 million,” the section ends.

 

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