Why Do People Think Demonstrating For Change Is Good For Cambodia?

This is the Guest Post by Thomas Mclean, a freelance journalist based in Siem Reap.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed by contributors and commentators do not necessarily reflect the views of www.khmerbird.com

Bun Bunnat has a story to tell. He is a remarkable Cambodian with impeccable English and a broad-knowledge of world and local politics. He offers an insight into the upcoming demonstrations and the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric that has swept the nation.

Bunnat holds two Masters Degrees, one in Sociology and another in Economics, but he is unable to lecture at many of the universities in Cambodia. As a student member of opposition parties he is on a blacklist – one that prevents him from working for any of the private universities in Cambodia.

When he was 18 he worked alongside Sam Rainsy for the Khmer National Party. Since that time he has built many political connections that makes him privy to an underground network of contacts that enable the CNRP to obtain information of corruption from inside the government. He calls it “a common-mind that wants to see democracy prosper in Cambodia.”

Sitting in broad-daylight, outside a Siem Reap café he explains to me what he feels the demonstrations will mean for Cambodia and how the current state of play will unfold.

“I am not famous, I am not a Nobel Peace prize winner, but I do have a dream – that one day I will stand outside the UN headquarters and inform the world of a rule that will bring down all the dictators in the world,” Bunnat said. Although he doesn’t go into detail of how you could create such a rule, it is a noble thought, and one which sets the tone of the discussion.

“The main problem in Cambodia is not between the CPP and the CNRP, not between Cambodians and Cambodians, but between democracy and Vietnam and China. The Chinese and Vietnamese dominate Cambodia’s political arena, the blood of Cambodia is very delicious for China,” he said, referring to China’s economic investment. “We worry that we will suffer the same fate as the Kampuchea Krom. Now there are 5 million Vietnamese in Cambodia, when there are 10 or 20 million, how will the Cambodian people have a democratic voice?” he said, comparing the influx of the Vietnamese to the Indo-Chinese nationalist movement. He insists this movement, echoes the anti-Vietnamese sentiment that has swept the country. “It is not in their interests to see democracy in Cambodia they have ideologies and economic investment to protect.”

“Now, we are not afraid to die, the elders, the monks, the young generation we are prepared,” Bunnat said, referring to the demonstrations that are planned to be held on Sept. 7. “It is a tragedy when I talk because I feel that blood will fall down on the road. We are already prepared and have waited for the sign from Sam Rainsy. We want these demonstrations to be a lesson to our next generation, that Cambodia demands a free society and a democratic community. We want the international community to pay attention to the human rights violations that are happening in Cambodia. We are Khmer we need to have our own voice.”

“We are Khmer, we are tired of fighting, we want the demonstrations to be peaceful but it is difficult to predict how the military will react (to the demonstrations),” he said.
“We don’t have guns, we don’t have an army. I know that in Kampong Cham province we are preparing basic weapons, sticks and stones, all the households are. We hope it doesn’t come to that. They would only be used in self-defense,” he responds.

“The government has tried to stop us demonstrating, they are planning to install military checkpoints to stem the flow of protesters into Phnom Penh. For the previous rallies in Phnom Penh, any buses that are heading to Phnom Penh, passengers have been questioned why they are heading to the capital. In some instances they have had their identification cards confiscated,” Bunnat continues. “At this moment in time, we want to see what happens in Phnom Penh. We have demonstrations planned in Kampong Cham, Takeo, Kampot, Siem Reap, Kandal, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng. We know the world’s media will be watching the demonstrations in Phnom Penh, if we were to demonstrate in the other provinces we would be arrested, people will disappear.”

He concludes with a sense of Khmer optimism, “My children will see a different Cambodia it is not a dream or my imagination. Whenever Cambodia has unified, it has been a great force, we want an honest democratic state. They deserve to see a Cambodia which has a prosperous education, employment and economic system we need that for Cambodia to harmonize.”

Thomas Mclean is a freelance journalist based in Siem Reap, he operates www.ngoinsider.com

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