Phnom Penh gets ready for Obama

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The Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, venue of the 21st ASEAN summit

Ahead of US president Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s dusty capital of 1.5 million, for the 21st ASEAN Summit, the government has been executing unprecedented security measures, blocking off long stripes of major roadways across the city, sending out police patrols and banning street food vendors. The unpredictability of the road blocks, especially during the morning hours, has left residents confused and steered away customers from otherwise busy saloons, shops and currency exchanges in the heart of the city.

In a russet-clay splashed automotive accessories and spare parts shop behind the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Sok Gech, 47, the store manager, sits idly in the afternoon heat.

“Every morning,” Sok Gech told Inside Investor through a local translator, “military police patrols walk with dogs starting at 7am [down Kampuchea Krom Blvd]. I’ve never seen that before.”

In addition, vehicles are permanently prohibited from entering the back roads behind the Peace Palace during the summit, but pedestrians still straggle through. Armed guards, however, pay only cursory attention from seats under the shade.

Cambodia currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN, a position rotated on an annual basis, and has already hosted numerous summits this year, an experience that shows in the government’s organisation of police forces and military check points from the international airport and around prime hotels, including Raffles and the Sofitel.

During previous summits and major conferences, street vendors were shooed off the sidewalks around the Peace Palace three days ahead of time, Sok Gech said, but for the upcoming ASEAN Summit, scheduled to begin receiving heads of state on November 18, the ban began two weeks prior to the summit’s opening.

Raising rights

Obama’s visit has exhumed controversial property and human rights issues within Cambodia to the international community. After police marched into several homes near the capital’s international airport on November 7, enforcing an eviction notice issued in July to address security concerns for the summit, residents painted messages on their homes pleading for the re-elected US president’s help.

Street vendors in Phnom Penh suffer from slow business during the preparations for the summit

Forced eviction cases such as this have been rife in Cambodia in recent years, leading rights groups to accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of authoritarian tactics. That only 20 per cent of Cambodians have land titles – a result of the Khmer Rouge’s abolition of private property rights during its 1975 to 1979 reign of terror – leaves many defenseless.

Obama is expected to raise concern over infringement of basic human rights, a central theme in the summit’s agenda. Fittingly, ASEAN leaders are scheduled to sign the ASEAN Rights Declaration at the summit on November 17 in front of world ministers, heads of state and an estimated 1,700 media personnel, an initiative that will outline policies to strengthen democracy throughout the region. However, the declaration has been accused by the UN of being drafted with little transparency. How serious the Cambodian government is willing to promote these reforms, however, is a question that will be out with the jury for time to come.

Obama is likely to get a vis-à-vis with China Premier Wen Jiabao, whose ruling communist party has identified endemic corruption as a major detriment to its longevity. Bilateral discussion between the US and Thailand about inclusion into the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also expected, a maneuver that will increase US influence in the region, offered a counterweight to belligerent tactics in Beijing. Also keen to address issues in the South China Sea, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III arrives on the evening of November 17 with a large 54-member delegation.

The Obama visit also offers a strong opportunity to address poverty and developmental issues in the struggling and aid-dependent Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia.

“It’s a strange feeling,” said Chau Dy, 28, Sok Gech’s assistant. “Cambodia is a small country and we are not used to visitors like this.”

US influence in Southeast Asia can and should match with pressure to address developmental problems in inequality and the abolition of draconian law enforcement.

“I’m glad Obama is coming,” Sok Gech said. “I hope he can bring good ideas to our government.”

 

 

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, venue of the 21st ASEAN summit

Ahead of US president Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s dusty capital of 1.5 million, for the 21st ASEAN Summit, the government has been executing unprecedented security measures, blocking off long stripes of major roadways across the city, sending out police patrols and banning street food vendors. The unpredictability of the road blocks, especially during the morning hours, has left residents confused and steered away customers from otherwise busy saloons, shops and currency exchanges in the heart of the city.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, venue of the 21st ASEAN summit

Ahead of US president Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s dusty capital of 1.5 million, for the 21st ASEAN Summit, the government has been executing unprecedented security measures, blocking off long stripes of major roadways across the city, sending out police patrols and banning street food vendors. The unpredictability of the road blocks, especially during the morning hours, has left residents confused and steered away customers from otherwise busy saloons, shops and currency exchanges in the heart of the city.

In a russet-clay splashed automotive accessories and spare parts shop behind the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Sok Gech, 47, the store manager, sits idly in the afternoon heat.

“Every morning,” Sok Gech told Inside Investor through a local translator, “military police patrols walk with dogs starting at 7am [down Kampuchea Krom Blvd]. I’ve never seen that before.”

In addition, vehicles are permanently prohibited from entering the back roads behind the Peace Palace during the summit, but pedestrians still straggle through. Armed guards, however, pay only cursory attention from seats under the shade.

Cambodia currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN, a position rotated on an annual basis, and has already hosted numerous summits this year, an experience that shows in the government’s organisation of police forces and military check points from the international airport and around prime hotels, including Raffles and the Sofitel.

During previous summits and major conferences, street vendors were shooed off the sidewalks around the Peace Palace three days ahead of time, Sok Gech said, but for the upcoming ASEAN Summit, scheduled to begin receiving heads of state on November 18, the ban began two weeks prior to the summit’s opening.

Raising rights

Obama’s visit has exhumed controversial property and human rights issues within Cambodia to the international community. After police marched into several homes near the capital’s international airport on November 7, enforcing an eviction notice issued in July to address security concerns for the summit, residents painted messages on their homes pleading for the re-elected US president’s help.

Street vendors in Phnom Penh suffer from slow business during the preparations for the summit

Forced eviction cases such as this have been rife in Cambodia in recent years, leading rights groups to accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of authoritarian tactics. That only 20 per cent of Cambodians have land titles – a result of the Khmer Rouge’s abolition of private property rights during its 1975 to 1979 reign of terror – leaves many defenseless.

Obama is expected to raise concern over infringement of basic human rights, a central theme in the summit’s agenda. Fittingly, ASEAN leaders are scheduled to sign the ASEAN Rights Declaration at the summit on November 17 in front of world ministers, heads of state and an estimated 1,700 media personnel, an initiative that will outline policies to strengthen democracy throughout the region. However, the declaration has been accused by the UN of being drafted with little transparency. How serious the Cambodian government is willing to promote these reforms, however, is a question that will be out with the jury for time to come.

Obama is likely to get a vis-à-vis with China Premier Wen Jiabao, whose ruling communist party has identified endemic corruption as a major detriment to its longevity. Bilateral discussion between the US and Thailand about inclusion into the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also expected, a maneuver that will increase US influence in the region, offered a counterweight to belligerent tactics in Beijing. Also keen to address issues in the South China Sea, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III arrives on the evening of November 17 with a large 54-member delegation.

The Obama visit also offers a strong opportunity to address poverty and developmental issues in the struggling and aid-dependent Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia.

“It’s a strange feeling,” said Chau Dy, 28, Sok Gech’s assistant. “Cambodia is a small country and we are not used to visitors like this.”

US influence in Southeast Asia can and should match with pressure to address developmental problems in inequality and the abolition of draconian law enforcement.

“I’m glad Obama is coming,” Sok Gech said. “I hope he can bring good ideas to our government.”

 

 

 

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