US Official: “Serious” Political Crisis Could Hurt Election

Calling the 1998 general elections “flawed” a US diplomat said Thursday the upcoming national ballot will weigh heavily on the US’ de­cision to expand aid to Cam­bodia.

“I would say the overall quality of [the 1998] election—in terms of process—was not one that would produce the kinds of changes in the relationship between the US and Cambodia that would be particularly helpful to [Cambodia],” the diplomat told reporters.

Rising political tensions in the wake of the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots and Tuesday’s assassination of a senior Funcinpec adviser could hurt the country’s chances of holding a general election in July that meets international standards, the diplomat said, calling the current situation here “serious.”

Without an improvement, US aid—which largely disappeared following Cambodia’s last political crisis, the July 1997 fighting—is likely to remain restricted to “certain well-defined humanitarian areas” like HIV/AIDS projects or anti-trafficking measures, the diplomat said.

“It’s a political reality that without a credible political process in the months ahead of us…the US is not going to move in the direction of development assistance and other kinds of assistance,” he said.

In a discussion with journalists Thursday, the diplomat also said Washington is opposed to Cam­bodia’s offer to host a mediation attempt by four nations, including China and Russia, to re­solve the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Last week Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who in June chairs the Asean Regional Forum, said he suggested to four counterparts in the grouping that they address the standoff ahead of the ARF meeting in Phnom Penh.

Calling them the Friends of the Chair, Hor Namhong had identified them as the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Malaysia and Thailand.

“We are not interested in having attempts to mediate the issue between North Korea and the United States,” the diplomat said. “It is not an issue be­tween North Korea and the Uni­ted States, it is an issue between North Korea and the international community.”

The crisis is likely to be on the agenda in June at the ARF in Phnom Penh, where foreign ministers from Southeast Asia, Europe, South Korea, Russia and the US are due.

The diplomat confirmed telling Hor Namhong he was not satisfied with the Friends of the Chair mediation proposal.

The crisis flared in October when the top US envoy to Asia, James Kelly, said he had extracted an admission from North Korea that it was engaged in nuclear development based on enriched uranium.

Hor Namhong, in his capacity as chairman of the ARF, visited the reclusive state for four days in December last year, saying afterwards its leaders were keen to solve the crisis peacefully.

(Ad­ditional reporting by Agence France-Presse)



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