|The Cambodia Daily , WEEKEND Saturday, April 28, 2001|
Groups Criticized as Too Political
jungle compound of kong thann, Kandal province - An early morning sun peeks
through a stand of palm trees as dozens of scouts dressed in uniform shake
the morning ache off of legs and arms. It’s the last day of a weekend
camping trip and a basic routine has begun to settle in.
a signal they line up before a Cambodian flag. The national anthem is sung
and three fingers snap to each brow. A scout master barks a command and the
scouts march off in rhythm, a khaki line of approximately 60 meters winding
its way somewhere with purpose.
is the morning drill of the Cambodian Scouts, a group of 100 youth who have
come to the jungle compound of their leader Kong Thann, some 12 km south of
Udong, to study camp skills and build camaraderie.
scout universe is a well-ordered place. The members wear neck scarves and
the military-style shirts of the World Organization of the Scout Movement;
they study skills taught in the Boy Scout Manual to earn merit badges; they
want to progress from the beginner’s rank of tenderfoot to the more
prestigious rankings of First Class, Heart, and Life.
who last will become not an Eagle Scout, as in most other countries, but a
rank of Cambodia’s own: Angkor. Distinctive, and yet part of a worldwide
youth group, the Cambodia Scouts claim some 865 members with 32 adult
all of this, the Cambodia Scouts are not recognized by the World
Organization of the Scout Movement, the Geneva-based federation that
oversees the world of scouting, because the Cambodia Scouts are one of
Cambodia’s two scout organizations. There can be only one, according to
the WOSM, so it recognizes neither of Cambodia’s scout groups.
matters more controversial, the Cambodia Scouts is headed by a top member of
the Funcinpec party, while its rival, the Scout Association of Cambodia, is
run by a leading member of the ruling CPP.
WOSM bans political leanings in its organizations, and in the case of
Cambodia has taken a firm stance against both scout groups. A WOSM envoy
personally delivered the international organization’s message of
displeasure during an official visit in November.
date, there is no national scout organization in Cambodia which is
officially recognized by WOSM,” said Kim Kyu-Young, the WOSM regional
director based in the Philippines.
consequences of the stalemate are serious for both sides, since it blocks
the flow of money from potential donors outside the country: Scout troops in
Hong Kong and Thailand say they would send funds to pay for uniforms and
camping equipment if Cambodia had an official scout organization.
we are a member of the world organization, we can receive technical and
financial assistance,” said Kong Thann, adding that he could get $40,000
to $50,000 from donors to send his scouts to an international jamboree, if
only he were official.
Kyu-Young attempted to broker a peace deal between the two groups during his
November visit, but talks broke down after a month when both sides refused
to budge, each offering to allow the other side to join their group.
the political tussling, the Cambodian youths who make scouting part of their
day-to-day life say they are happy to learn camping and hiking skills, eager
to advance through the ranks of scouting and hope one day to become an
Prach Gna, 20, joined the Cambodian Scouts one year ago, becoming one of the
many girls in the Cambodia Scouts. Cambodia, like most countries, allows
both boys and girls to join scouts. Today, as a second class scout, she has
been camping twice.
want to get to the Angkor class very much,” she said, speaking to a
reporter between studies at the Cambodian Academy of Business Studies, where
she and her fellow CS members gather every Sunday.
said she’s never heard of the Scout Association of Cambodia, and has
little idea of the political firestorm brewing in the hierarchy far above
her second class perch.
Cambodia has a scout organization at all may come as a surprise to some
people. Youth organizations were an immediate casualty of the civil wars
that tore at the nation’s social fabric.
again scouts in Cambodia have never known a lot of stability. Like the
checkered history of their country, various scout organizations have come
and gone under different names and leadership.
first scout troop, founded in 1934, was organized as the Khmer Scout
Association under Prince Monireth. In 1956 the movement, at 1,000 strong,
was renamed the “Scouts of the Queen.” The next year Prince Norodom
Sihanouk formed a rival youth group, his state-run “Royal Socialist Khmer
scouts continued to flourish, sending delegations to the 8th World Jamboree
in 1955 in Cananda, then again for the 10th World Jamboree in the
Philippines in 1958.
end came in 1964, when Prince Sisowath Essaro announced that all scout
members were to join the Royal Socialist Khmer Youth.
movements sputtered to life three times in 1972, 1986 and 1993, falling
apart soon after they began due to the political turmoil that plagued
effort to reorganize in 1994 with the assistance of the regional office of
the World Scout Movement and the National Scout Organization of Thailand got
as far as training scout leaders before it dissolved in 1996 as political
group of men, some of whom had been scouts as teenagers, gathered in 1999 to
form the Cambodian Scouts, registering with the government in October of
that year. They named Lu Laysreng, the Funcinpec Minister of Information, as
following year the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport announced it was
forming a scout group as well, naming a top CPP official as its director.
This week, the SAC strengthened their ties to the CPP when they named Prime
Minister Hun Sen their honorary president.
those ties that have fueled criticism that both groups are little more than
farm teams for Funcinpec and the CPP, influencing their teenage members as
they form a political consciousness.
face it, in a general way they are affiliated with the two political
parties. So why don’t they declare themselves the young Funcinpec party
and the other the young CPP party, and become transparent?” said Lao Mong
Hay, the executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. “Why hide
themselves under the scout organization? They are created by the two
political parties. They are seedbeds for future politicians.”
the charge has been widespread, there is little evidence of political
tinkering during the Cambodia Scouts weekend camping trip at Kong Thann’s
property. The members dance, play games and practice marching skills that
they could use one day at the jamboree, if they ever go, but they do not
talk about politics. Scouts at the camping weekend say their leaders have
not asked them about their political affiliation.
Vannath, president of the Center for Social Democracy, said the political
influence may be less obvious than it seems.
doubt if there is any requirement to join the party. Each of [the scout
groups] claim they have a humanitarian purpose,” she said.
the scouts will build relationships and as they grow older, and as they
become politically active, will influence each other to join the parties of
their leaders, she said.
of the figurehead, because of the leaders belonging to the political sphere,
I think automatically the purpose of the Boy Scouts seems like political
influence of the scouts. In the Cambodian context, it is already enough to
say they are politically motivated,” she said.
Vannath, who is also deputy national commissioner of the Girl Guides of
Cambodia, a girls-only group that claims no political affiliation, said she
was not ready to condemn the idea of scouting altogether.
good thing about the scouts is to build the team spirit, which our society
is lacking. It is very beneficial for our nation. But if it’s about
politics it’s not good because they are too young.”
the Cambodia Scout troops are based at the home of Kong Thann, High
Commissioner of the Cambodian Scouts and an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister
Tol Lah. A second floor meeting space is decorated with numerous pictures of
scouts in the field using compasses to find their way. A large Cambodian
Scouts banner hangs at the end of the room, and scout leaders gather here in
uniform, briskly greeting each other with the three-fingered salute of
Thann, who speaks English after years of living in the US, translated a
Scout Handbook into Khmer and has a version in color. He can only afford to
pass out black and white photocopies.
woes, perhaps more than anything, limit the scouts. They still don’t have
merit badges—there are more than 100 for various skills—because of a
lack of funds. Scouts who earn a merit badge keep track of it in a book.
scout is expected to buy their own blue and red scarf, it costs $1, but many
cannot afford their uniforms of khaki short-sleeved shirt and blue shorts.
the uniform, sometimes the scouts pay, sometimes I pay,” Kong Thann said.
equipment is nonexistent. At the Cambodia Scouts camping weekend, many of
the scouts slept in a field under three large blue tarps they erected with
situation at the SAC is not much better, though Lak Sam Ath would not say
how much he has spent on the scouts. He said the Ministry of Youth,
Education and Sport spent some money for camping trips and to buy rubber
stamps and paperwork. The SAC does not have a scout manual, or patches.
groups claim they are fairly active, though only the Cambodian Scouts could
show a reporter actual members.
Cambodian Scouts have organized four scouting trips since they began, for 70
to 100 members, teaching camping, fire building and orientation using
compasses. They have invited two nuns on some of their trips to teach
meditation. They planted trees along a road with the cooperation of the
Ministry of Agriculture. They have built a bridge across a stream.
try not to teach not only the traditional scout techniques, but also dance,
traditional dance, dubbing, English, Japanese,” Kong Thann said.
all of the Cambodian Scouts are at the rank of Second Class, just one step
above the first rank of Tenderfoot.
try to finish the first class, but it’s hard,” Kong Thann said.
Scout Association of Cambodia has not held weekly meetings, but the scouts
have gone on camping trips, according to Lak Sam Ath, acting director
general of youth and sports at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
members have gone on 10 camping trips in various provinces, attended by as
many as 120 members. SAC scouts volunteered to help people in Chroy Changvar
build a barrier against flooding. They also volunteered for three days at
the National Water Festival Day in front of the Royal Palace, collecting
rubbish and conducting AIDS awareness activities.
when asked if a reporter could meet with SAC members living in Phnom Penh,
Lak Sam Ath said no, that the members are in the provinces.
had low progress until recently,” he said, referring to the government’s
decision to form a scout group last year. The group registered in July.
Sam Ath said he had a mandate from the WOSM to establish a scouting
organization in Cambodia after traveling to the Philippines and meeting with
Kim Kyu-Young privately sometime in early 2000.
at the time there was also Khamarik Kampuchea,” he says, using the Khmer
name of Cambodian Scouts.
why the government’s scout troops could not join the Cambodian Scouts, Lak
Sam Ath said the SAC already has a registration in their name, and sets of
rubber stamps that bear the SAC imprint. To change the name now would be too
costly and inconvenient, he said.
established scouting to make it clear that the government has a duty to
provide a government subsidy and financing for scouts, because scouting is
an educational organization,” he said.
was the WOSM that tried to broker a peace between the two groups in
November. Kim Kyu-Young came to Cambodia and appointed Lak Sam Ath and Kong
Thann as co-chairs of the Coordinating Scout Committee of Cambodia. They met
on five or six successive Fridays, but agreed to nothing.
Thann tried to explain.
people don’t have a handbook; they just go to the Philippines for one
month or two months and they claim they are experts in scouting. I have been
active in scouts since high school,” he said.
more disturbing, he said, the SAC has turned away adults who want to be
scout leaders if they are not also members of the CPP.
principles of scouts should be nonpolitical, nonmilitary. We follow this
principle, but SAC does not. They are all members of CPP. They use
government influence to form the scouts. The CPP chief at the province level
has to join the SAC,” he said.
government’s involvement in scouting
flies in the face of most international scout conventions, which say
that scouting must be nonpolitical, nonreligious and not aligned with any
German scout leader who visited Cambodia recently to inquire about scouting
said the group must break away from the government completely in order to be
recognized by the World Scout Movement.
national scout organization...has to be a nonpolitical, nongovernmental,
nonprofit organization,” he said.
Sam Ath said the SAC is not under the control of the government, and the
group’s constitution states it has no connections to the government, even
though the leaders of the SAC are Minister of Cabinet Sok An and Im Sethy,
the CPP secretary of state for the Ministry of Education. Even more curious
was the announcement this week that Hun Sen was named the group’s honorary
Sam Ath said despite the ties to the CPP, the SAC does not withhold
membership to anyone, adding that he was not a member of the CPP himself.
Sam Ath said he’s interested in reconciling with the Cambodian Scouts, but
first he needs to train more scouts. He said that in six to seven months,
perhaps discussions can be held again to merge the two groups.
the meantime, the group plans a vigorous membership drive, culminating next
month with scout training in 27 locations, each pulling in 50 members. The
youngest level of scouts, the Cubs, will mushroom to about 10,000 by the end
of next month, he predicted.
the Cambodian Scouts and the SAC can work out their differences, they could
find common ground at Angkor Wat, where both groups want to hold a national
Cambodian Scouts have planned a jamboree in late December. They invited the
SAC leadership, however, planned an Angkor Wat jamboree of its own.
the following year.