Words Can Reveal or Obscure – Sunday, 15.8.2010

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 677

On Thursday, 12 August 2010, The Cambodia Daily had a headline that said:

Gov’t Refutes Court Order on Land Dispute

And in the text this is explained as follows:

Ratanakiri Provincial Court has ordered the province’s largest rubber company to temporarily stop operations…

But an official at the Ministry of Agriculture said that the order should not be carried out, as it would harm government revenues coming from the rubber sector.

“The injunction cannot be implemented because it is on state land,” Ly Phalla, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s rubber department said yesterday.

Is this acceptable? When some personal interest is negatively affected by a court order favoring an opposing side, it is understandable that an individual does not want to follow a court order. But a court order has to be obeyed anyway in a country under a Constitution like the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodian. Or an appeal to a higher court can be made.

Is this suggestion by a high ranking official at a ministry, calling not to obey a court order, acceptable? If it is not acceptable, it would be interesting to read the sanctions which were taken against such a position.

But it is not surprising, then, that there was also a report in The Mirror of Thursday, 12.8.2010 – see details there – saying:

The report by the Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, Mr. Lim Kean Hor, does not relate to only one case, but he says that 45 illegally built reservoirs were already destroyed since 25 June 2010, but 239 illegal reservoirs which still are to be demolished, are located in the six provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Thom, Pursat, and Siem Reap. So it is a widespread fact, in spite of the criticism since many months, and an order by the Prime Minister in April 2010.

The Minister of Water Resources said he is just following the Prime Minister’s order, and “We reported and sent the name list of those people to Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen to consider and to decide an appropriate measure.” The list names some district governors and commune chiefs, suspected to be involved in collusion to protect illegal reservoirs which are ruining the Tonle Sap lake. Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhayly took a similar position: “We must cooperate to protect and conserve the Tonle Sap lake and engage in the conservation for the development of eco-tourism…. The Cambodian People’s Party must acknowledge what we did, because party officials such as district governors and commune chiefs signed on documents to allow the creation of those illegal reservoirs.” – “He will hold all responsibilities for everything if there are any of subordinate officials taking bribes and trying to prevent these newly-built basins from being destroyed by the Government’s local authorities,” he added.

This is quite different from the call from another Ministry’s department director. It is obvious where proper responsibility is taken to act, and where it is difficult to understand what is said by others in high positions.

And one may ponder what is more surprising – that a department director of a ministry can publicly call to disregard a court order, or that a ministers really does what has to be done, in spite of the fact that it will create displeasure among members of the same party, as it includes a public admission that the Cambodian People’s Party must acknowledge what was done wrong. Such admission clears the way to a new, and better start.

= = =

In quite a different context, the question of taking responsibility for words spoken by persons with public responsibility has also to be addressed.

Even as it is complex and difficult to navigate, The Mirror tries to mirror it – mirroring what is in the media; and this may not in all cases correctly reflect reality. But it all relates to the painful tensions between Cambodia and Thailand.

On 4.7.2010, The Mirror carried reports about allegations in the Thai press that two Thai citizens, supposed to have been involved in planting a bomb in Bangkok, fled to Cambodia. The Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers rejected such reports, calling on the Thai government to end what it described as a “malicious campaign to fault Cambodia…” The Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mr. Koy Kuong said that these allegations were “stupid.” – “Cambodia completely denies this kind of provocative information.” – “They raise incorrect information. When Thailand has problems, they blame Cambodia.” – “If Thailand denies that they have accused Cambodia, then they should make corrections in all their media that have published such false information,” he said. “I think this is a play from the Thai government officials, who speak out without taking responsibility for their comments.”

On 5.7.2010, one day later, The Mirror had a headline “Cambodia Will Hand Over Two Terrorist Suspects to Thai Embassy Officials on Monday” – they were arrested in Siem Reap. – Thai government officials did not have to apologize for a “malicious campaign” of “provocative information” and to correct wrong, “stupid” allegations, and they did not have to make corrections in all their media. While Thai government officials had been accused by their Cambodian counterparts of speaking out without taking responsibility for their comments. We are not aware that an apology for the accusations against the Thai side was published in all Cambodian media, that had carried the – now proved groundless – accusations against the related Thai voices.

Now again the Thai government is again urged by representatives of the Cambodian government to control their media better.

A press report from Thailand has been taken as the basis for a Cambodian appeal to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council, stating that the Thai Prime Minister’s words imply a violation of the UN charter – but the Thai Prime Minister claims that he was “misquoted, taken out of context and misunderstood” in what he had said in relation to the use of military force in border disputes. The Cambodian government sees this, on the other hand, as a Thai effort to blame the media, while actually continuing a Thai “toxic” campaign to confuse the public. And the Cambodian side retorts, in this war of words, that the Thai government should control its press better, and to publish immediately corrections, if necessary.

A similar need to correct supposedly problematic reports by the press was felt by the Cambodian side already once in February 2010. The international press had reported that the Cambodian Prime Minister had cursed his Thai counterpart:

“If you don’t tell the truth about Thai troops invading Cambodia, let magic objects break your neck, may you be shot, be hit by a car, may you be shocked by electricity or (may you be shot) by misfired guns.”

“Will Abhisit swear on having all his family members killed and having them (perish) in a plane crash, if (he still claims) that Thai troops did not invade Cambodia?”

In order to clarify the situation, the Cambodian Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, appealed to the media on 15.2.2010 to report correctly, saying that the Cambodian Prime Minister did not “curse” Mr. Abhisit, but just asked to swear that Thai troops did not invade Cambodia. “In the past, there are a lot of misunderstandings. So, I would kindly ask you to correct those words. Samdech (Hun Sen) did not curse, Samdech only ask Abhisit to swear whether Thai troops invaded Cambodia or not. If they didn’t invade Cambodia, just swear.”

Considering that most of the indirect exchanges over the press are – in addition to the difficult situation – mostly burdened by translations, from Thai to English, and from Khmer to English, and then re-translated again in the respective local media; there is enough room for emotional interpretation and misunderstanding.

“The Thai Prime Minister declared again that “Thailand is committed to solve the border dispute peacefully under the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding,” and the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was quoted in the issue of Rasmei Kampuchea of 8-9.8.2010 also to appeal to adhere to this same Memorandum of Understanding.

But while the Cambodian Prime Minister also repeated this hope for a peaceful solution, he also warned last week again that the border tension could lead to “bloodshed,” a wording similar to his statement from October 2008, when the BBC reported that the Cambodia Prime Minster had threatened “all-out war, to turn the area around the disputed Preah Vihear temple into a ‘zone of death’.”

Is there any other way to what the Cambodian Prime Minister himself had said recently, as The Mirror reported:

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