Archive for Friday, September 26, 1997


September 26, 1997


Khmer Rouge survivor

More than 20 years ago, Sichan Siv watched those around him die of famine, exhaustion and execution as Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge communist regime came to power in Cambodia.

Some 20 days ago, Siv testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the splintered nation's latest civil strife -- a military coup by Hun Sen, whose party was spurned by the country's first democratic election in 1993.

Thursday, in a guest lecture at the Kansas Union, Siv related his tales of horror and of Cambodia's progress and lack of progress toward freedom.

"People literally fell down around me," Siv said of 1975, when Pot's forces came to power. "I hope that Cambodia could return to a period of peace and stability."

Siv, who escaped the forced labor camps of Cambodia, served as a Southeast Asian affairs adviser to President Bush and was part of the diplomatic envoy that hammered out a Cambodian democratic peace accord in the fall of 1991.

Since that time, Cambodia has held the first democratic election under that agreement. However, the May 1993 results, instating Prince Ranariddh as the first prime minister, were officially disregarded on July 4 of this year. And Pot has been exiled: a transparent, symbolic move, Siv said.

Some areas have seen progress: Newspapers have sprouted, currency has been stabilized, investments -- primarily Asian dollars -- have come into the country, and human rights organizations have gained a foothold.

But in the past five years, former communists and the endorsers of new freedoms have become dangerous bedfellows.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 40 people have been executed at the hands of Hun Sen. Some fear a return to the chaos that felled millions of Cambodians.

"The way they executed people reminded me of what the Khmer Rouge did" back in 1975, Siv said. "Cambodia today is not a democracy that functions under the rule of law."

Now, people walk the streets in fear of Hun Sen.

"He will use anything to stay in power," said Siv, who has met and spoken with the military leader. "He has no mercy on his political opponents."

In August, Siv asked hordes of natives how they felt about the current political situation. Each responded with either "I don't know" or "I'm scared."

And of late, Siv said, the Clinton administration, the Japanese government and others have "not been very proactive" in asserting power to improve conditions. Without help, "there will be no fair and free elections."

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