Asean Troika Blesses Poll Preparations

Representatives of the regional economic and security bloc Asean on Saturday met with top Cambodian figures here, giving a stamp of approval to the government’s preparations for elections.

“The preparations have been going well,” Thai Foreign Min­ister Surin Pitsuwan told re­porters at the Council of Min­isters after his meeting with Se­cond Prime Minister Hun Sen. “The three days of the campaign so far have been smooth. We are quite satisfied with what we have seen so far.”

The Thai foreign minister heads up a three-member Asean task force on Cambodia, along with foreign ministers from the Philippines and Indonesia.

“We are quite encouraged and hopeful the election will be carried out smoothly and the international community will be rewarded for its efforts,” Surin added.

Surin, making a lightning-quick visit with a 15-member entourage in an army helicopter, returned to Bangkok late Saturday.

He also met with deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and with King Noro­dom Sihanouk at the monarch’s private residence in Siem Reap town in the morning.

“We had a very, very successful meeting with the King,” Surin told Hun Sen on greeting the second prime minister at the Council of Ministers.

The trip follows meetings in Bangkok last week of a grouping of Cambodia’s major aid donors, the Friends of Cambodia, to discuss the elections.

The meetings last week endorsed the July 26 date for the elections, but highlighted concerns over political conditions here, including allegations of politically motivated killings of opposition party supporters.

Sok An, co-minister of Cabinet, said Saturday’s meeting was positive but registered disapproval about a statement released last weekend by the three Asean foreign ministers. The statement expressed concern about allegedly politically motivated murders.

“This does not correspond to reality here,” Sok An told reporters.

He noted that a government team had concluded that the killings of three opposition supporters in the past two weeks were not political in nature.

Surin responded in the meeting that the Cambodian government should release a statement clarifying the country’s security situation, Sok An said.

Opposition parties have alleged political motivation in four murders in the last two weeks. However, police and a government human rights inquiry team headed by CPP loyalists have discounted political motive in three of the murders.

Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the independent Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said relations between the Asean troika and top Cambodian officials is the best it has been since last July.

“I think the relationship has been significantly improved in the past two or three months,” he said. “The relationship has never been better than now since July 1998.”

Kao Kim Hourn said that the earliest likeliest admission of Cambodia into Asean, if all goes well, would be at the members’ summit in December. Cambodia is now holds observer status with the group.

Factional fighting tore through Phnom Penh last July just 18 days before Cambodia’s scheduled admission into the regional economic bloc, prompting Asean officials to effectively delay Cambodia’s entry. Vietnam and Myanmar were admitted as scheduled.

Since then, Hun Sen has rebuffed various offers by the group to help mediate in Cambodia’s military and political conflicts caused by the fighting.

(Reporting by Agence France-Presse, Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Marc Levy)




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