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Sam Rainsy Welcomed in Alaska

by Bert Hoak

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his wife Tialong Saumura paid a surprise visit to supporters in Alaska recently during a whirlwind two day tour of Anchorage. The Alaskan tour, hosted by the Khmer Relief Society and sponsored in part by the Alaska Law Center came at the end of a twenty-eight day speaking tour to eight cities in the United States and Canada which included a visit to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

At a fund raising dinner at the Sawaddi Restaurant Rainsy and Saumura were introduced to friends and supporters by former Mayor Rick Mystrom and his wife Mary. Mayor Mystrom expressed a deep admiration for the Pro-Democracy activists who are leading a courageous crusade for justice and democracy in their homeland.

During the Alaskan stop Rainsy and Saumura were able to meet with representatives of Alaska's congressional delegation as well as several Alaska State legislators. Rainsy impressed upon the representatives the crucial need to restrict unconditional aid to Cambodia until such time as there is a free and independent judiciary and universally accepted elections.

At a luncheon forum hosted by the Alaska World Affairs Council both Rainsy and Saumura addressed an enthusiastic group of civic, business, and labor leaders. They later answered questions posed by the audience concerning such diverse issues as child prostitution, drug trafficking and labor abuses. Alaska State AFL-CIO President Mano Frey warmly welcomed Rainsy who has devoted much time and energy to the often dangerous task of helping the fledgling workers unions in Cambodian factories.

Immediately following the forum Saumura met informally with several Anchorage Women's groups including Bridge Builders and the Alaska Women's Political Forum. The group followed up the discussion with a question and answer period that lasted more than an hour and ended only when Saumura was taken away by friends from the local Cambodian community who insisted on taking her on a quick sight seeing tour.

During an hour long interview by Susan Reeves on "Let's Talk Alaska" Rainsy spoke of the devastating effect of unrestricted logging of Cambodia's forests, stressing that the forest cover has been reduced by 50% in six years. "The deforestation has led to drought and famine and is the direct result of corruption" he said. Curiously, it was his adamant stand against the logging abuse that first brought Rainsy to the fore in the fight against corruption. His refusal to compromise cost him his seat in the Cambodian Parliament and removal from his post as Minister of Finance. An additional interview was taped for later broadcast by Alaska Public Radio Network.

An hour long talk at the University of Alaska, sponsored by the UAA Political Science Club was followed by two full hours of questions and dialogue. Rainsy spoke of the total inability of the corrupt Cambodian Judiciary to hold genocide trials for the former Khmer Rouge leadership who are accused of the deaths of up to 1.5 million Cambodians during the reign of Pol Pot. Rainsy and Saumura also spoke movingly of the several assassination attempts on themselves that have left dozens of their supporters dead. Surprisingly, it was their first talk at a university and they were heartened by the enthusiastic atmosphere and spirit of good will.

Rainsy and Saumura met numerous times with members of the small Cambodian community and warmly received by many who see him and his political party as the best and perhaps only hope for true democracy and human rights in Cambodia.

No stranger to travel or to lobbying his cause in the seats of power, Rainsy was visibly impressed with Alaska and Alaskans. "No where have we been able to meet with so many on such short notice on our first visit"he said. "We have met with representatives of federal and state officials as well as business and labor leaders. We have had two radio interviews and spoken at a university ... all with very little notice. I know that Alaska is part of America but it is really quite different from the rest of America isn't it?"

In the final week of their US tour, two more of their supporters were murdered in Cambodia. Anchorage was the final stop prior to their return to Cambodia.

-- Septermber, 2000


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