The government has undertaken serious reforms on governance, human rights and the judiciary, Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith told representatives of the E.U. on Wednesday.
His remarks came on the last of a three-day Cambodia-E.U. joint committee meeting in Phnom Penh and on the heels of an apparent government offensive against the opposition CNRP and an E.U.-funded rights organization.
In his opening remarks during the afternoon session, Mr. Borith said Cambodia had embarked on “a national development plan, with a view to spur economic growth, an efficient and responsive public administration with a credible legal system and promoting good governance, vibrant democracy, and respect for human rights.”
The secretary of state offered a similarly rosy view of Cambodia’s economic prospects.
“Cambodia is advancing to lower-middle-income [status] in the very near future, and a high-middle-income status in 2030,” Mr. Borith said, going on to solicit the E.U.’s help in realizing the country’s economic potential.
The E.U. is Cambodia’s single largest aid provider, having pledged 410 million euros, or about $435 million, for the period from 2014 to 2020.
It is also one of the main donors to local rights group Adhoc. Four senior officers of the organization were imprisoned on bribery charges on Monday over a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Jorge de la Caballeria, the E.U.’s head of development coordination for South and Southeast Asia, described this week’s meeting as “timely” and said his delegation had brought up the arrests.
“Last election’s results demonstrated that profound reforms are expected by the people,” Mr. de la Caballeria said, calling for a restoration of the so-called “culture of dialogue” between the ruling and opposition parties.
He said the government could not separate economic and political maturation from “respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, rule of law and the sustainable use of natural resources.”
At the end of a visit to Cambodia early last month, members of the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee warned that Cambodia’s “road to democracy” could disappear and threatened to measure any progress made or lost during a follow-up visit.
“We will be back,” said Lithuanian parliamentarian Petras Austrevicius.