In unusually strong language, the US State Department criticized the Cambodian government’s role in the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots and warned that Washington was closely watching the country’s progress toward the July general elections.b
The riots, and the more recent killing of Funcinpec official Om Radsady, have also unbalanced relations between Washington and Cambodia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley said in a report on US interests and policy priorities in Southeast Asia.
The report was submitted on Wednesday to the powerful US House of Representatives’ International Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific.
“As the anti-Thai riots of January 29 indicate, provocative rhetoric, ethnic tensions, and political violence are a plague on the body politic of Cambodia and a serious check on democratization,” Daley said in his report.
“The government itself is part of the problem, as evidenced by the Prime Minister’s provocative public comments in the preceding days and in the slow response by authorities on the night of the riots, and the government’s use of the riots as a pretext for harassment of political opposition and independent media,” he said.
Daley said the killing of politicians in the run up to the election was a major concern, and the killing of Om Radsady had “focused international concern.”
The arrest of suspects involved in the royalist official’s killing was welcome, but the government needs to do much to ensure a safe election environment.
“We are steadfast in our resolve. High-level US officials during visits to Phnom Penh have made public statements highlighting our concerns. We believe the government is listening but much more needs to be done,” Daley said.
Phnom Penh has been asked to provide a full report on the Jan 29 events, he added.
Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation remains a problem for Cambodia, the report stated.
Although some convictions have been made, the industry is still being fed by corruption, complicit government officials, lack of police training and poor implementation of law, the report stated.
Daley did praise Cambodia for its cooperation in accounting for US servicemen and citizens missing since the war in Vietnam and the deportation of Cambodians from the US, along with addressing corruption in the foreign adoption business.
However, “Bilateral relations with Cambodia are difficult to keep on an even keel in light of the January riots and subsequent political killings,” he said.
The report will add to feeling among some Cambodian politicians and foreign diplomats that Washington is taking a tougher stance in relations with the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Late last year, comments by US Republican Senator Mitch McConnell calling for “regime change” in Cambodia and Burma caused a furor among officials in Phnom Penh.
McConnell later toned down his statement, saying Cambodians should use the general election as an opportunity to change the government—which he has branded as “hard-liners.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Friday that the US should cease criticizing Cambodia and should provide assistance to help it scale the many hurdles it faces.
The US was also wrong in implicating Phnom Penh in the anti-Thai riots, which, he said, unfolded as a result of the government inexperience in dealing with such a situation.
Khieu Kanharith also said that generally, relations with the US government were good.