France & Cambodia – continued

France has released a short video summarizing the Prime Minister’s (Jean-Marc Ayrault, or JMA as I’ve decided to nickname him) visit to Cambodia to attend the funeral of former King Sihanouk (read this post for background information and some more random thoughts). I tried (multiple times) to embedded the video but apparently I’m not as tech-savvy as I thought I was. In any case, the video is available here: Voyage au Cambodge: l’essentiel – Vidéo Dailymotion.

A few interesting things about the video:

  • The emphasis is on France’s interests in engaging with the region/ASEAN and strengthening links with Cambodia.
  • JMA mentions that France is the only Western country to have been invited to the funeral – but mentions that in the context of France wanting to engage with the region – as if that was why France was invited and not because it’s the former colonial power ….
  • The few shots of French-funded projects are basically like a commercial for French foreign aid.
  • Aside from shots of the funeral clearly gleaned from Cambodian state TV (you can hear Khmer in the background), there’s almost no talk of King Sihanouk, his legacy, his relationship with France, etc. I know it’s a touchy subject but I would have expected JMA’s visit on this occasion to … well … talk about the occasion a bit more.

Nevertheless, the Cambodia Daily (update 8 Feb 2013: available here) is reporting that JMA raised human rights issues during his meeting with Cambodian PM Hun Sen – specifically bringing up the cases of Sam Rainsy and Mam Sonando! He apparently also discussed the case of Daniel Laine, a French journalist (who is still in France) who convicted on charges of sex trafficking after having made a documentary on the sex trade in Cambodia and sentenced to 7 years in prison, in a case widely thought to be baseless.

According to the Cambodia Daily, JMA “stressed the French nationality of the three men, and told Mr. Hun Sen that France was awaiting ‘positive future developments’ regarding the cases.”

Of course, Information Minister and Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith responded, saying that:

For the government, these issues are under the jurisdiction of the courts and have nothing to do with politics or with French nationality. [Sam Rainsy and Mam Sonando] were accused of criminal offenses, not involving political activity or journalistic work.

It would be nice to see France raising human rights concerns with Cambodia on a more regular basis and not just when it concerns individuals with French citizenship – but at least this is a step in a right direction.

Update 8 Feb 2013: there’s another video available where JMA talks a bit more about the French-Cambodia relationship and colonialism.

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