US Opposes Aid, UN Seat, Until Government Formed

A senior government official Sunday criticized an apparent decision by the US to wait until a new “representative” government is formed before resuming aid or supporting a UN seat for Cambo­dia.

“I think it is a pity,” said Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. “It will hurt only the people of Cambo­dia.”

Stanley Roth, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said in Wash­ington on Friday that the US would op­pose the UN seat and resumption of aid until a government is formed that includes the opposition in a position with some real power.

“Our intention is not to resume aid to the government…unless and until we’re satisfied that in fact there is a government formed that reflects the [result] of the election, in other words a meaningful role for the opposition,” Roth told a US Senate subcommittee.

He likened the CPP’s initial coalition offers to awarding the opposition to “positions with the significance of dog catcher.”

The CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party are scheduled to meet again today in Phnom Penh in further efforts to break the political stalemate.

The US suspended non-hu­man­itarian aid to Cambodia in July 1997 after a weekend of street battles in Phnom Penh led to the ouster of Prince Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister. The US also led the campaign to have Cambodia’s UN seat de­clared vacant.

More recently, the US has been the sole major holdout in making a final election assessment, after deciding to make a separate statement from the one made by the UN-coordinated Joint International Observer Group.

The amount of non-humanitarian aid suspended by the US in 1997 was less than $30 million. But the US is seen as a critical player in Cambodia because of a host of other factors, including its superpower status, its influence in the UN, and its role as a major donor to the International Mone­tary Fund and the World Bank.

All three political parties have been strongly courting the US in recent months. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy attempted to testify at the Senate hearing, but subcommittee chairman Senator Craig Thomas invoked a precedent that prohibits foreign nationals from testifying on political matters.

Roth said that while the opposition didn’t win the polls, they won enough votes to play a significant role in the new government.

And, on the topic of readmitting Cambodia to the UN, “we are steadfastly opposed to credentials until there is a government that we consider legitimate,” he said.

He added that the US was “de­lighted” at a recent decision by Asean not to admit Cambodia until an acceptable government is formed. After the factional fighting in 1997, Asean indefinitely postponed Cambodia’s entry into the regional grouping.

Hun Sen had hoped that the July elections, declared essentially free and fair by JIOG, would restore Cambodia’s regional and international legitimacy.

The CPP won a majority of the parliamentary seats, but not enough to form a government on its own.

Prak Sokhonn said Sunday that “the people of Cambodia should not be held hostage” just because the CPP is unable to get the opposition to agree to form the coalition.

Oum Sarith, an adviser to CPP President Chea Sim, reiterated that point.

“If they [the opposition] have a positive stance to form a constructive coalition government with us, it would be possible,” he said Sunday. “It has been our stance to form a government reflecting the will of the people. It’s what the CPP has wanted.”

Oum Sarith said that in his view, Roth’s statement doesn’t apply pressure on the CPP, “be­cause we have been trying to [form a new government]. If we had not tried to do it and they told us to do so, yes it is pressure and it’s important.”

Funcinpec has been reluctant to form a coalition, fearing a repeat of the failed power-sharing arrangement of 1993.

Roth also criticized the CPP-stacked National Election Com­mittee and Constitutional Council for not doing more to investigate the opposition’s complaints of fraud.

“Where the Cambodian government has massively failed was in simply dismissing carte blanche hundreds if not thousands of claims that were made rather than adjudicating them in a serious fashion,” Roth said.

The National Election Com­mittee conducted only eight commune recounts. It was requested to do 800.

Roth did stress that voting day itself had been successful with more than 90 percent of those registered casting ballots.

A number of groups offered testimony at the hearing, including US-based observer groups and Human Rights Watch Asia.

The International Republican Institute, one of the two main US observer groups, condemned the electoral process as “among the worst” it had ever observed and “fundamentally flawed.” The group has close ties to the opposition and invited Sam Rainsy to address the subcommittee.

Human Rights Watch Asia said the international community was hasty in endorsing the process as essentially free and fair.

The Cambodian government, the group said, “has failed to address the fundamental human rights problems that plagued the pre-election period, including political violence, extrajudicial killings, and official impunity for abuses.”

Until the government does ad­dress those problems, Human Rights Watch said, the US should continue to withhold direct government aid to Cambodia.


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