Obama Signs Off on Aid Cuts to Government

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday signed a spending bill that suspends some funding to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government until an independent investigation into last year’s disputed national election is carried out, or until the opposition CNRP ends its boycott of parliament.

The bill targets only a small portion of the U.S.’ $80-million a year in aid to Cambodia that goes straight to the Cambodian government. Excluded from the suspension, however, is anything that falls under humanitarian aid, and human rights training for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

The aid will be withheld from Mr. Hun Sen’s government until U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry certifies that the “government is conducting and implementing, with the concurrence of the political opposition in Cambodia, an independent and credible investigation into irregularities associated with the July 28, 2013 parliamentary elections,” or until the CNRP takes it seats, the bill states.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy welcomed the bill, saying that while only a small amount of aid was being withheld, the CPP government would feel the symbolism of the cut.

“This represents a slap on the face of Hun Sen, and the slap is more important than any amount of money—it contributes much to delegitimize the regime of Hun Sen,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“Mr. Hun Sen…dreads the prospect of international isolation more than anyone else in Cambodia. Now his regime faces a legitimacy problem.”

U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh would not specify how much aid money the spending bill will withhold.

“We continue to support a transparent investigation into reported irregularities with the July 2013 national elections and the implementation of reforms that will ensure credible elections moving forward,” he said in an email, reiterating that U.S. aid cuts will not directly impact Cambodian citizens.

“The restrictions will have virtually no impact on our humanitarian assistance and other programs that directly benefit the Cambodian people.”

Ek Tha, spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said the CPP had won the election fairly and called for caution in cutting aid.

“We are calling for donors, friends who are near and far, not to reduce aid or cut aid to Cambodia because the Cambodian people, we need donor support to develop this country,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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