Government Blasted By US Gov’t Official

Cambodia was listed together with such countries as Iraq, North Korea and Burma in a statement by senior US Senator Mitch Mc­Connell at a hearing on US State Department funding for 2004.

Addressing the US Senate Foreign Operations Appro­priations Subcommittee on Wednesday, McCon­nell lauded the US victory in Iraq and noted the “myriad of challenges posed” by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

However, he finished his statement, a copy of which was received on Friday, with terse words for the governments of Cambodia and Burma.

The powerful US senator warned that he intended to pursue new sanctions against Rangoon because of the Junta’s failure to pursue talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, and urged the State Department to support Cam­bodia’s opposition party ahead of the July 27th general election.

McConnell blasted Phnom Penh over the January 29th anti-Thai riots, the killing of opposition activists, the assassination in February of a Buddhist monk and last week’s shooting of Judge Sok Sethamony.

The incidents “underscores the lawlessness and impunity that has become the hallmark of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” Mc­Connell told the hearing.

“In such a climate, talk of a Khmer Rouge tribunal using Cambodian courts and judges makes no sense,” McConnell said.

“I encourage the State Depart-ment to seize every opportunity to strengthen the hand of the democratic opposition in the run up to these polls,” he added.

Viewed as an avid supporter of the Sam Rainsy Party, McConnell previously irked government officials late last year with his calls for “regime change” in Cambodia and Burma.

McConnell later toned down his attack on Hun Sen’s CPP, saying the Cambodian people should use the elections to change the government, which he branded “hard-liners.”

Government officials could not be contacted for comment on Friday, but they have previously responded that US officials should provide assistance to help Cambodia overcome it problems and not simply offer criticism.

Also on Friday, a visiting delegation of European and Asian liberal party members ex­pressed concern that the government and the international donor community was not doing enough to ensure a safe election environment.

Graham Watson, a European Parliament member for the UK, Liberal Democrats, said the pre-election environment was being compromised by violence, intimidation and vote buying.

Watson also noted that new village chiefs have not yet been chosen—despite funding by the EU for last year’s commune elections—and that a Buddhist monk was killed in “cold blood” in February in Phnom Penh.

Sam Bunthoeun, 47, president of the Buddhist Meditation Center of Odong, died after being shot in Wat Lanka.

The killing was “no doubt an attempt to intimidate Buddhist monks against registering for the election,” Watson told a news conference.

“Unless these problems are remedied, the conditions for a free and fair election will not exist,” Watson said.

“It’s the duty of the international donor community to make greater efforts to insist, with the Cam­bodian government, that there be full respect for human rights and democratic freedoms,” he added.

The delegation’s visit was organized by the Sam Rainsy Party which is a member of the liberal party network in Asia.                                    Rajiva Wiljesinha, a member of Sri Lanka’s Liberal Party, said he was disappointed that people were excusing Cambodia’s current problems by comparing them to the situation in the country following the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

However, Urooj Malik, Asian Development Bank country represenative, said Cambodia has come a long way and the delegation’s visit may have been too short to appreciate the progress that has been made.

“It is important to keep an historical perspective in mind,” said Malik adding that the delegation’s impressions may have been influenced by their hosts, the Sam Rainsy Party.

Government reform and re­spect for human rights was a key part of the agenda, he added.

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