Marking the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended Cambodia’s civil war in 1991, opposition officials and rights groups on Friday urged signatory countries to use the agreement to settle a number of problems facing the country.
The peace agreement, signed by warring Cambodian factions and 18 nations, outlined a framework of sovereignty and independence, neutrality and national unity.
The groups pointed to the military standoff on the Thai border, weakened democratic mechanisms, attacks on freedoms, and the gap between rich and poor as reasons to renew efforts to follow the accords.
The Human Rights Party said in a statement the agreement had brought elections, non-governmental organizations, pluralism and an independent media. But, the party said, Cambodia still faces weaknesses in its democratic process, illegal immigration, incursions by foreign countries and a large gap between rich and poor.
“Those problems are concerns of Cambodian citizens,” HRP President Kem Sokha said. “The spirit of the Paris agreement was to bring development to Cambodia, but only rich men and powerful men benefit the most.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association and representative of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, insisted that Cambodian leaders respect the agreement.
Signatories of the agreement should be approached to stop an “invasion” by Thai soldiers, he said, referring to a military standoff in a border dispute near Preah Vihear temple.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia did not need “foreign intervention.”
Cambodia was developing by the spirit of the accords, he said, including in “the development in the area of human rights, in the economy, in national defense and in democracy.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Friday Cambodia had not yet reached “full liberty and freedom.”
Ahead of the anniversary, groups in France urged more adherence to the accords, as well.
Before Prime Minister Hun Sen visited France in July, to celebrate that country’s independence day, the Cambodian community in France sent letters, e-mails and petitions to the office of the president, claiming the Paris accords had been abused over the past 18 years.
Cedric Goubet, chief of the French Cabinet, replied in a letter, saying the office was taking the complaints under consideration and had communicated concern to the French Foreign Ministry and the European Union’s office of Foreign Affairs.
The French advocates said the response gave them hope the accords were not dead.
“We have to unite among ourselves to find ways to convince France to pay more attention to the actual situation in Cambodia, to scrutinize respect of the Paris Peace Agreement by the [Cambodian] government, and ask all signatory countries to reconvene the Paris peace agreement,” said Chak Sakhun, president of the French-based Khmer Mchas Srok Movement.
Sean Pengse, president of the Cambodian Border Committee, based in Paris, said his group was “happy” the French government continued “to respect the Paris Peace Agreement.”
“From now on, perhaps France will understand what we mean,” he said.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the peace accords had been breached long ago, with the Khmer Rouge withdrawing from the deal to fight a campaign against the government and its then-new peace partners.
“That means the Paris Peace Agreement was already dead,” he said. “It is thanks to the goodwill of the State of Cambodia at the time that we continued to respect it.”
Cambodia’s thousands of non-governmental organizations, in a country of roughly 14 million, along with the start of a Khmer Rouge tribunal, were signs the government was following the spirit of the accords, he said.
That statement prompted a letter of response by the Khmer Mchas Srok movement in France, and Seng Pengse, requesting that the matter be brought before the UN.
“It is very good that Mr. Sean Pengse has brought up the matter of the abuse of this agreement by the Hun Sen government, to inform the French government, as [Cambodia] seems to have been taken advantage of by other countries,” said Ong Thong Hoeung, author of “J’ai cru aux Khmers rouges.” “If the Paris Peace Agreement is already dead, it means that [Cambodia] has no borders, because this agreement was a promise to help Cambodia have solid borders. For those who say the Paris Peace Agreement is already dead, it means people have no respect for the…borders.”
Dy Kareth, vice president of the Cambodian Border Committee, said international treaties such as the Paris Accords “never die.”
“For example, the French-Siamese agreement about [Cambodian] and [Thai] borders, in 1904 and 1907, was more than 100 years ago,” he said.
“I know that the Paris Peace Agreement is still in effect until now,” Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council, said. “But please look back at the UN, which, while implementing the Paris Peace Agreement in Cambodia had violated it, and no one dared to protest. Some superpowers didn’t pay attention to it, and now it’s too late to correct it.”