As we mentioned at the beginning of this report, we set out for Cambodia on a voyage of friendship, with no preconceived notions about what we could or should do. Underlying our mission are our common concern for Cambodia and our common belief that the Cambodian people should not have to stand alone at this critical juncture of their historical development.

We learned a great deal on the trip. We feel that what we have learned and our thoughts about what we have learned can be useful to the Cambodians in their hour of need. Thus, in the same spirit of friendship and concern, we would like to offer our conclusions and recommendations, not only for the record, but also in the hope that they will be considered by all parties concerned.

As we will endeavour to explain below, we believe that the future of the Cambodian people is closely intertwined with ASEAN regionalism. We believe that to a significant degree future peace and prosperity in Cambodia will depend on the extent and the quality of cooperation between her and her ASEAN neighbours. But for the sake of clarity we have divided our conclusions and recommendations into two "packages". One primarily concerns Cambodia’s domestic affairs; the second is related to the relationship between Cambodia and the region, as follows.


We found that Cambodia’s domestic political situation is grave, with a potential for further escalation of the conflict in the period before the general election next year. Yet we believe that there are many encouraging signs. As we see it, while the national reconciliation process is in trouble, Cambodia has already achieved a great deal in the past five years and there exist conditions that will help her build upon this achievement in the near future.

To improve the situation and to put Cambodia back on the track of national reconciliation, we join many other friends and admirers of Cambodia in entreating the two ruling parties and the two prime ministers: first of all, to cease using rhetorics as an instrument of bargaining and legitimation; secondly, to work together in a spirit of compromise; thirdly, to take collective action to address the problems which are seriously damaging the nation’s image in the eyes of the international community, namely corruption, trade in drugs and human smuggling; and lastly, to avoid undertaking acts of political expediency which can only serve to increase tension and to tarnish further Cambodia’s international image, especially where exploitation of the Khmer Rouge factor is concerned.

For the climate of confusion and tension must not be allowed to persist; the day-to-day task of governance must proceed as efficiently as possible, and the Cambodians should be able to demonstrate to the world that they have the will to help themselves before they can ask the world to lend a hand.

But we do not wish to state only the obvious. We believe that there are more or less concrete steps which can and must be taken immediately in a number of areas, as follows:

(1) The Rule of Law

We were encouraged by the recent establishment of the Royal Government Joint Commission for Abnormal Conflict Resolution and its call for Cambodia’s military and security services to remain neutral in conflicts between political parties.

As the country moves nearer to next year’s general election, we believe that this "Commission of Eight" has an important role to play in confirming and strengthening the rule of law. This should be considered a prerequisite for both peaceful political contestation and the maintenance of an orderly, stable framework for uninterrupted social and economic development. We hope to see its mission extended, perhaps with provisions for greater authority and responsibilities where necessary and appropriate.

(2) The Armed Forces and the Bureaucracy

The position taken by the "Commission of Eight" in its joint declaration indicates an awareness of the need for less partisanship and for more professionalism in the armed forces and the bureaucracy. Again, we find this most encouraging, for we firmly believe that a strong ethos and tradition of non-partisan public service are essential for implementation of policy and continuity of governance.

Therefore, we urge the Government to take measures to promote professionalism of the armed forces and the bureaucracy. We hope that such measures will be comprehensive and cover all important aspects, from recruitment, selection, training, promotion and transfer, to salary, welfare and discipline, as well as organisational reengineering and legal reforms where necessary and appropriate.

This task, of course, cannot be accomplished overnight, but it is important that the Government begins to undertake it as soon as possible, to restore both domestic and international confidence in Cambodia’s ability to administer her own affairs and to help prepare for the coming general election.

The question of the two prime minister’s personal security forces should be urgently addressed as part and parcel of this professionalisation process and also of the preparations for the election. We hope to see the two prime ministers fulfill their oft-expressed desire to see less conflict and more cooperation, by bringing about significant reduction in the role and number of their respective armed bodyguards.

It is perfectly understandable, and also within their rights, for leaders to entrust their own and their families’ security to those whom they can trust. But in this sort of situation, as in international politics, a security dilemma is involved: enhancing one’s security through buildups of manpower and weapons can only lead to countervailing responses, which in turn lead to a vicious cycle of actions and reactions and ultimately greater insecurity for all. Thus , it is imperative that measures to avoid this vicious cycle be introduced as early and as comprehensively as possible.

(3) Electoral Commission

One of the most encouraging signs we found was the fact that all the Cambodians we talked to stressed time and again the need for peaceful political contestation in general and for a free and fair election in 1998 in particular. We believe that the time has come to translate sentiments and words into action.

We hope to see the immediate establishment of an independent electoral commission with sufficient authority, budget and manpower to undertake the following missions effectively: firstly, to examine and to revise, if necessary, all laws and regulations related to political parties and elections at all levels; secondly, to monitor the electoral process; and thirdly, to assume the responsibility for collecting and counting votes and for declaring results; and lastly, to take legal measures against violators of electoral laws and regulations.

We acknowledge that this is a very tall order indeed. Such an independent and powerful electoral control organisation is a species rarely found anywhere in the world, let alone here in Southeast Asia. Even if the will to establish such a body can be found, the burdens in terms of budget and manpower may be prohibitive.

Nevertheless, we urge the Cambodian government, political parties and people to strive for the establishment of such a body as best they can. In most countries election abuses tarnish the image of those responsible for and benefiting from such abuses and may reduce public faith in the electoral process. But in Cambodia the stakes are much higher: only an election which is, and is perceived to be, relatively free and fair can keep Cambodia’s national reconciliation on the right track.

Because both the burdens and the stakes are high, the government sector must be assisted in this endeavour. Full participation of Cambodian NGOs must be encouraged. So must contribution from abroad. Funding is one possible form of contribution, training and election-control "technology transfer", another. The question of a possible ASEAN role will be addressed below.

(4) NGOs and Media

To promote national reconciliation through democracy and freedom, there must be contributions in one form or another from the non-government sector. Political education, monitoring and assessing the public sector’s policies and actions, and providing accurate information and constructive ideas both to increase the quality of good governance and to enhance the people’s understanding of public policy issues and their capacity to make rational decisions, are all necessary tasks that must be undertaken. NGOs and the media must be encouraged to play a role.

This means that governmental pressures and restraints, legal or otherwise, must be kept to the minimum needed to guarantee responsibility on the part of the NGOs and the media and that measures related to funding, taxation and flows of public information must be reviewed and improved. Moreover, where the media are concerned, institutions should be established to increase the quality of journalism. Here, the private sector and the international community, especially the ASEAN countries, should be encouraged to lend their support.

(5) Preparations for Longer-term Development

While needed for the 1998 election, the establishment of an independent and powerful electoral control commission should be seen as part and parcel of a broader process of making preparations for the longer term.

The measures advocated above are necessary to put Cambodia’s national reconciliation back on the right track, but they are not sufficient in themselves to address the manifold challenges of political, social and economic development. Other measures are needed for these tasks, which will also help to ensure that national reconciliation remains on track in the years ahead.

One set of measures involves a review of the constitution, in order both to strengthen the structures of good governance and to find a more judicious balance between the authority of the state on the one hand and the freedom of the individual on the other.

Another set of measures should consist of institutional and legal reforms, to improve the machineries of governance and justice. In particular, Cambodia needs to develop her instruments of economic planning and management, for using and allocating scarce resources in the optimal way , for initiating and implementing key fiscal and monetary policies, for encouraging and monitoring free-market mechanisms and foreign investment, and for promoting savings, investment and domestic entrepreneurship. She also has to develop her legal and judicial systems which are inchoate and in disarray, not only to facilitate the process of economic development, but also to enhance the rule of law, public security and the quality of justice.

The third set of measures should address the challenge of human resources development. These should involve not only the extension and improvement of formal education at all levels, but also continuing education for the older and the less educated and on-the-job training programs for professionals, technicians and workers. Here, the private sector, both domestic and foreign, should be encouraged to play a role.

Some may say that, since these measures are for the longer term and need time for preparation and implementation, there is no urgency involved. But we believe that, precisely because they need time, the task of preparation has to begin as soon as possible. For, although national reconciliation is essentially a political and psychological process, it cannot exist or grow in a vacuum and must be supported and strengthened by appropriate institutions, laws, mechanisms and policies in a variety of fields.


ASEAN membership is no panacea for Cambodia’s many political ailments. Whenever we meet Cambodians who think that it is, we immediately try to dispel this notion. Nevertheless, we believe that regional partnership is a key to sustaining and strengthening Cambodia’s national reconciliation, that ASEAN membership and full participation in the processes of ASEAN regionalism constitute an integral part of Cambodia’s efforts to promote peace and prosperity after two decades of war and destruction.

One reason is the dictate of geography.

Located between Thailand and Vietnam, much larger countries with much larger economies, Cambodia has a great deal to lose if her neighbours belong to a free trade system and she does not. For in such a situation "free trade" will only be a one-way affair: while having to guard herself against illicit inflows of lower-priced goods and to cope with the impact thereof on her trade balance and the structure of her domestic production and distribution, she will not have the benefits of access on equal terms to bigger markets. On the other hand, if she "belongs", not only will she have such an access, but her location also means that there are likely to be indirect benefits in the forms of income from services and improved communication and telecommunication systems. At a stroke, "belonging" will transform geography from a certain liability into a potential asset.

The second reason is the requirements of development.

Cambodia is rich in certain natural resources, but years of war and destruction have imposed severe constraints upon her capacity to promote social and economic development. She cannot go it alone.

While there may be adverse consequences in the short term, as pointed out above, entry into ASEAN and AFTA-CEPT will provide her with access to larger markets and to all the potential benefits arising therefrom. More importantly, entry will mean that she is both an integral part of a regional economy, which is one of the most dynamic in the world, and a full partner in a diplomatic community, whose influence and role have been rapidly growing. The first makes her more attractive to foreign investors, and the second gives her more international clout.

ASEAN membership is not a panacea. It will not make Cambodia a newly industrialised country overnight. The Cambodians will still have to work hard to achieve their goals of social and economic development. But membership will help alleviate or remove a number of constraints. For a society in which a few short years ago there was not much margin between survival and destruction, every little bit of help and support has to be significant.

The third reason is that the Cambodians themselves believe partnership to be a key to sustaining and strengthening the process of national reconciliation.

We found a remarkable consensus of opinions among Cambodians that their future is closely intertwined with ASEAN. As we pointed out earlier, regional cooperation is seen as both the framework and the mechanism, firstly, for fully integrating Cambodia with the international community and, secondly, for further consolidating the foundations of economic reconstruction and rehabilitation, which in turn are so vital for the process of national reconciliation. ASEAN membership is also seen as a symbol of complete acceptance of the new Cambodia by key neighbours and an expression of appreciation and support for Cambodia’s commitment towards peace and prosperity in their troubled land.

After the Fifth ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in December 1995, the Cambodians were given to understand that Cambodia will be considered for ASEAN membership in 1997. On the basis of this understanding and on the strength of their perceptions, beliefs and sentiments, the Cambodians have been preparing for membership since early 1996. Again, as we have pointed out before, progress has been made in personnel-training and translating ASEAN documents, agreements, rules, regulations and procedures into the Khmer language. Most significantly, steps have been taken to prepare Cambodia for access to AFTA and AFTA-CEPT, where some members of the Council of Ministers have openly advocated a "super-fast track" approach for meeting the obligations under the latter arrangement.

Perceptions, beliefs and sentiments are not real in themselves, but they can and do give rise to expectations, behaviours and actions which are real in their consequences and hence become a part of the reality.

What or how the Cambodians perceive, believe or feel may not correspond to the prevailing reality, but the thoughts they entertain and the expectations these thoughts give rise to are a part of the policy-making milieu and have been, and continue to be, translated into policy actions, thus becoming a part of the reality itself.

For better or for worse, for good reasons or bad, Cambodia has already hitched herself and her future to ASEAN. This is the reality that has to be taken into consideration.

Because regional partnership is, and is perceived by the Cambodians to be, a key to sustaining and strengthening the process of national reconciliation, we would like to make the following recommendations :

(1) Membership

On Cambodia’s side, we believe that the National Assembly must be convened as soon as possible to ratify all the ASEAN agreements. We understand the problems which hitherto have prevented its convention. But ASEAN membership is a prize of greater and more lasting value than shifting and changing domestic political advantages. Cambodia should not be kept out of ASEAN for want of readiness on her part.

On ASEAN’s side, we strongly believe that the question of Cambodia’s membership should be considered on its own merit, not as a part of a "package deal" involving Laos and Myanmar as well.

One reason is that all the three countries are sovereign states, with their own identities, attributes, concerns and aspirations, and patterns of historical, political, social and economic development, and thus deserve to be treated on their own respective merits.

Another is that ASEAN has a commitment to Cambodia.

This commitment does not merely arise from the fact that before the Jakarta informal summit, she was given to understand that she and Laos would be admitted in 1997, and on the basis of this understanding proceeded to make preparations for entry.

The commitment comes from ASEAN’s role in the Cambodian peace process. ASEAN was a part of the international community which was both mother and midwife to the new Cambodia. We believe that ASEAN’s presence at the new Cambodia’s creation in itself is a sufficient reason for considering Cambodian membership on its own merit.

The third reason is that regional cooperation is and is seen to be a critical factor in the Cambodians’ efforts to bring about national reconciliation, peace and prosperity to a land devastated by two decades of war. Her membership credentials must be examined in the context of her unique circumstances.

Even though a case can be made for it, we do not advocate that Cambodia be given a special consideration. We merely propose that her case be looked at on its own merit. It is no more than what she deserves.

If Cambodia’s case is examined on its own merit, as it should be, there can be only one possible conclusion. Cambodia is ready to become a new ASEAN member this year. As we have explained above, she is well-prepared in both psychological and operational terms to assume the privileges and the burdens of partnership. There is no possible reason to delay her entry.

We propose that Cambodia be admitted as a member of ASEAN this year.

(2) ASEAN and the National Reconciliation Process

Unique circumstances require unique responses.

Cambodia’s circumstances are unique, and we believe that ASEAN should be prepared to engage in the task of "constructive intervention" in that country.

Non-intervention remains, and should remain, the cardinal principle for the conduct of intra-regional relations. But, given the magnitude and severity of the challenges facing Cambodia, the ASEAN countries, individually and collectively, should consider playing a "proactive" role in helping her cope with these challenges, if requested to do so.

One possible area for playing such a role is provision of assistance to strengthen the mechanisms for ensuring a free and fair election. Funding is one form of contribution. Training of personnel to monitor the electoral process is another. If required, ASEAN should also consider sending observers to follow the election.

The second possible area for a "proactive" role on the part of the ASEAN countries is provision of advice and assistance in institutional development and legal reforms. As we pointed out above, a great deal remains to be done in promoting professionalisation in the armed forces and the bureaucracy and in improving the machineries of governance and justice.

The third possible area is provision of advice and assistance in human resources development. Funding is needed. But perhaps ASEAN can best contribute "in kind". For the ASEAN countries collectively constitute a vast reservoir of knowledge, experience and technological know-how which can usefully be transferred and applied to Cambodia.

In this connection we would like to refer to more concrete proposals put forward in a document which some of us helped to draw up. At the end of 1996 a number of scholars, analysts, government officials and opinion leaders, many of whom either had held or still hold key cabinet positions in ASEAN, Cambodia and Laos, assembled as concerned citizens of Southeast Asia to produce a report entitled "Dictate of Partnership: Cambodia, Laos and ASEAN in One Southeast Asia". The recommendations of this so-called Study Group on Cambodia and Laos (SGLC), including those concerning human resources, represent a detailed road-map towards full participation of these two countries in the processes of regional cooperation.






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