Gov’t Attacks Critics With Ministry Letter

A war of words that erupted last week when the US ambassador blasted Cambodia for tolerating corruption has now escalated, as the Foreign Ministry sent diplomats a letter telling them to be careful of what they say.

The letter, unsigned but on official stationery, cited a section of the Vienna Convention that states diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of their host countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesmen declined to comment on the letter. But a number of Phnom Penh-based diplomats confirmed that they had received a copy of a letter from the Foreign Ministry, saying they hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

The ministry “deeply regrets that recently, certain ambassadors have performed their behavior like instructors teaching the Royal Government of Cambo­dia, or op­position parties,” the letter states.

“More seriously, the said amb­assador has also used inflammatory words inciting revolt against the Royal Government of Cambo­dia.” The government “cannot accept these arrogant attitudes, although the Kingdom of Cambo­dia is not a super-power country,” the letter states.

Although the letter did not identify US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann by name, he said in a phone interview from Mondolkiri province Wednesday that it was clearly aimed at his remarks and that he finds the letter “inappropriate.”

Weidemann said he stands by what he said last week at an anti-corruption conference, when he called for immediate steps to halt corruption, such as requiring top officials to explain where their  wealth comes from.

He said he was merely reiterating what has long been policy for both the US and Cambodia: a commitment to good governance and transparency, goals both governments say they share.

“I reject any charge by the [Cambodian] government that anything I said was improper, or inconsistent with diplomatic practice,” he said.

Last week, he warned that donors may tire of providing aid if the government doesn’t act to curb curruption. Sum Manit, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, responded that the US gives Cambodia no direct aid “so the government cannot steal money from the US.”

Sum Manit added that Japan, Cambodia’s most generous donor, never accuses Cambodia of “corruption, fraud, or misuse of aid.”

Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa said Wednesday that Japan, like the US, believes rooting out corruption “is very, very important for development. I sincerely hope it will be eliminated as soon as possible.”

He said he found the ministry’s letter “a little bit unusual” and wondered why it had been written.

Asked whether he thought it was appropriate for a diplomat to speak so bluntly, Ogawa said decisions about what to say in public depend on the individual and the circumstances involved.

But he said, “I share the feelings of Mr. Wiedemann.”



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