Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy returned from an 18-day visit to the US and Canada Friday, saying he raised about $50,000 for next year’s national election campaign and for the development of Sam Rainsy Party-led communes.
Sam Rainsy said he met with supporters in 10 US states, including New Jersey, California and Washington state, and the Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal. He said he told them the Sam Rainsy Party won council seats in over 900 communes in the Feb 3 elections, ensuring some degree of local power-sharing.
“This is progress toward more democracy,” he said. “There will be more checks and balances at the commune level, and I guarantee that there will be less intimidation for the 2003 elections.”
The party receives 70 percent of its financial support from US supporters, he said.
The opposition leader also met with US officials with an interest in Cambodia, including US Senator John McCain, special assistant to the President Elliot Abrams and two deputies at the State Department. He said he asked them to support democracy in Cambodia.
Arriving Friday at Pochentong Airport, Sam Rainsy told reporters that streets in communes now controlled by his party will be named after heroes who died fighting against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s and who died in the 1997-1998 factional fighting between CPP and Funcinpec forces.
He said top Funcinpec officials Ho Sok, Chao Sambath and Krouch Yoeum could receive the honor. All three were killed during the 1997 factional fighting.
Kong Siluos, who fought with resistance forces along the Thai border against Vietnamese and Heng Samrin regime soldiers in the 1980s, could also have a street named after him, Sam Rainsy said.
After the press conference, Sam Rainsy reiterated comments he made in Washington, alleging that US aid was being used for political purposes. During a speech last week, Sam Rainsy remarked that US-funded aid to the UN World Food Program was presented to Cambodia in a ceremony hosted by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
The US Embassy denied that discriminatory distribution was occurring. The embassy asserted that all food distributions were supervised by the UN food program.
On Friday, Sam Rainsy made the same accusation. “CPP officials take the credit, because they hand out these donations without specifying it comes from the Red Cross, the US or the World Food Program,” he said.
World Food Program country director Rebecca Hansen said Friday that most food was distributed not through government officials, but through specialized programs run by NGOs. They include programs in which people build public works in exchange for food and nutritional programs for schoolchildren, pregnant women or tuberculosis patients.
Distribution of emergency food relief after last year’s floods was directly supervised by World Food Program staff, she added. “We provide food in a very programmed and targeted way,” she said.
Sam Rainsy said the US officials he met had varying opinions on the prospects for a UN-sponsored Khmer Rouge tribunal. Some supported the UN’s withdrawal from negotiations, while others supported putting more pressure on the Cambodian government to make concessions to the UN which could reopen negotiations.