Gov’t Threatens To Expel UN Resident Coordinator Over Anti-Graft Debate

The government has threatened to expel UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick if the UN country team makes any further public statements that “unacceptably interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia.”

The unprecedented expulsion threat relates to a March 10 UN country team statement which asked the government to allow “sufficient time” for stakeholders to analyze the government’s draft anticorruption law before it was debated in the National Assembly.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong sent a letter to Mr Broderick on Saturday, saying he would be unwelcome in Cambodia if the UN team released similar statements in the future.

Mr Namhong states in his letter that Vijay Nambiar, chief of the Cabinet of the UN Secretary General, told Cambodia’s permanent representative at the UN in New York on Friday that UN headquarters had not instructed the UN in Cambodia to issue a statement about the anticorruption law.

“Therefore, as stated by the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on 12 March 2010, the United Nations Country Team had exceeded the limit of its mandate,” Mr Namhong wrote.

“The unwarranted comments made by you in connection with the adoption of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Law is a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia.

“Any further repetition of such a behavior would compel the Royal Government of Cambodia to resort to a ‘Persona non grata’ decision.”

Mr Broderick could not be contacted for comment yesterday. Margaret Lamb, spokeswoman for the UN resident coordinator’s office, said the UN country team would not be commenting on the foreign minister’s letter.

More than 15 years after it was first proposed, the government’s draft anticorruption law passed through the Senate on Friday, eight days after it had passed through the Assembly. Copies of the draft law were only made available to lawmakers and the public five days before debate started in the Assembly.

On March 10, the UN country team released a statement saying it welcomed “the consideration by the National Assembly of the long-awaited Anti-Corruption law.”

“[The UN country team] notes with concern that an extra-ordinary session was convened only days after the draft was shared publicly with parliamentarians,” the statement said.

“Given the high interest manifested for this law by many stakeholders, the UNCT hopes that it is not too late, and encourages the National Assembly to allow sufficient time for Parliamentarians, civil society, donors and the UN to study the law so that if and where deemed necessary, amendments may be proposed for consideration.”

The UN statement, however, was released some hours after the Assembly had begun debating the law, which meant that it could have had no influence on the timing of the Assembly’s work.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed yesterday that the letter had been sent to Mr Broderick, and the threat was expulsion from the country.

“If he continues doing that, we will use the ‘persona non grata’ decision,” Mr Kuong said. “His comments were [like] he was the opposition party spokesperson.”

Mr Kuong added the warning to Mr Broderick was not intended to intimidate other NGOs, who were openly critical of the government’s decision to fast-track the passage of the anticorruption law without the wider consultation many groups had asked for.

Independent political observer Chea Vannath said both the government and the UN team in Cambodia needed to revisit the terms and conditions of their relationship to prevent the public spat from getting out of hand.

“They need to go back to what their agreement says,” Ms Vannath said.

“If not, there will be a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding,” she said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the free legal aid Cambodian Defenders Project, said he did not believe the UN team were required ask for permission from their headquarters in New York to issue a statement.

“This is just expression [of an opinion]…. It is not an order to the government,” he said.

The UN and the government signed a new UN Development Assistance Framework agreement in January, which details a joint five-year plan to meet development goals between 2011 and 2015. The current UNDAF will expire at the end of this year.

The letter to Mr Broderick was the third formal communication made by the government about the UN country team’s March 10 statement. The government had previously issued two press releases saying the UN country team had overstepped the mark-from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Ministers.

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