In Which I Begin to Suspect That “Secession” Means Something Different in Cambodia

The big news in Phnom Penh over the weekend was the arrest of Mam Sonando, owner of Beehive Radio, one of a small number of independent radio stations in Cambodia, and head of an NGO called Democrat Association.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called for Sonando’s arrest last month following a Beehive report on Khmer diaspora efforts to convince the International Criminal Court to investigate the regime’s human rights abuses. Sonando has been a vocal supporter of the rights of Cambodian villagers against land grabs by private companies. The charges (which I’ll get to) link him to a forced eviction dispute between the Cambodian government and locals in Kratie Province in which security forces fired on protesting villagers with live ammunition. A 14 year old girl was shot and killed; there has so far been no investigation into her death.

Here’s where things take a turn from the tragic and upsetting into the absurd (and still upsetting). The government justified its use of force by claiming that it wasn’t brutally suppressing unarmed demonstrators, it was breaking up a secession attempt. Because it’s totally reasonable to assume that a bunch of poor villagers objecting to the seizure of their land are secretly planning to overthrow the government. And Kratie, which sits smack dab in the middle of Cambodia, would be a totally reasonable place to set up an independent state.

Sonando’s support for the protesters (ahem, secessionists), along with the fact that several of them are members of his Democrat Association, apparently provided adequate grounds for Hun Sen to demand his arrest and for a Kratie judge to issue a warrant on charges of insurrection and incitement. Sonando returned to Cambodia from Europe on July 12 despite the charges and the Ministry of Interior waited just long enough for Hillary Clinton and the rest of the visiting ASEAN diplomats to get out of town before arresting him on the 15th.

So that all sounds like it’ll end well, right?

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. Mmmm. Hun Sen’s CPP are actually rather expert in secession along the Mekong. After they failed to win a majority in the 1992 UNTAC administered elections, despite holding effective power, the CPP organized a “spontaneous” revolt of police, army and CPP organs in Kompong Cham and other towns and cities on and east of the Mekong (probably including Kratie which has is the last stop before the Vietnamese border). I think there’s some evidence that this fall back on the Vietnamese border was always part of their emergency plan during the civil war with KR, Funcinpec, KPLNF etc. Anyway the so-called spontaneous people’s revolt against the UN organized election (supported by local CPP controlled TV – I know that bit because I was in Kampong Cham at the time) forced Funcinpec’s Ranariddh into a coalition with the CPP who then seized power completely in the 1997 coup and established a de facto one party state. And there you have it.

    • Thanks for your comment, that’s fascinating! And perhaps explains why the regime would be hyper-sensitive to unrest in this region…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *