Thursday, 31 July 2003

Phnom Penh (Fides Service) – “Cambodia is threatened with political stall, people are concerned: they fear the return of social disorder which followed 1998elections”. Salesian missionary Father Leo Ochoa, director of the Salesian Technical School in Phnom Penh, said this in a conversation with Fides Service with regard to the political elections held on 27 July in Cambodia. The Salesian Technical School has 500 pupils and it offers courses in electronics, mechanics, computer technology and English.
The elections were peaceful with no episodes of violence. The official results will be released on 8 August, but the Cambodian People’s Part CPP led by Prime Minster Hun Sen, is said to be in the lead with 49% of the votes, while the two Opposition parties Sam Rainsy Party and Funcipec are said to have gained respectively about 22% and 20% of the votes. “There is tension – Father Ochoa says – because the Opposition parties have warned that they will not form a coalition with Hun Sen’s CPP. This means there could be a political stalemate because it would seem unlikely that the CPP will obtain the two thirds majority necessary to govern. This is why people fear disorder like in 1998 after the elections”.
The Church in Cambodia, a small flock of 20,000 Catholics out of a population of 13 million, is prudent. Father Ochoa says: “Many of the Catholics are Vietnamese who settled in Cambodia. Some political leaders liken the Catholic religion to the Vietnamese who not popular because of political problems in the past and the Church is affected by this resentment. But the Church does not support any political part: she works instead for the good of the whole country, youth in particular and the poor, without no distinction of race, culture, nationality or religion. Our doors are open to all”.
The missionary says the Catholic community is deeply involved in education, although schools are state run and secular and religion is taught in parishes with a course of at least three years, before administration of baptism. “We are also fully engaged in development and human promotion, teaching and offering living witness of Gospel values such as respect for others, love and forgiveness”.
“The present government – the missionary says – esteems Catholics, particularly the missionaries present in the country: Paris Foreign Mission, Salesians, Jesuits, Missionaries of Charity (Sisters of Mother Teresa), PIME, Maryknoll. Many say our schools and services are the best available because of the high quality we offer. On the basis of the esteem we are shown, we are confident that the difficulties will be overcome.”
The most widespread religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism. In 1975-1979 with the Red Khmer regime, religion of any form was suppressed. In 1979 Buddhism and Islam were recognised officially once again and in 1990 freedom of worship was granted to Christians. PA (Fides Service 31/7/2003 EM lines 43 Words: 527)