US Says Fair Elections May Bring More Aid

A US State Department official signaled Friday that Cambodia could receive increased government aid if the July 27 general elections are carried out “in a safe environment on a level playing field.”

“If the conduct of these 2003 national elections provides a safe environment for all participants to compete, equal access to the media, and effective controls of election abuses, we can anticipate that we would explore areas of US assistance to Cambodia,” US State Department deputy spokes­man Philip Reeker said in a State Department transcript.

The US restricted its non-humanitarian aid to Cambodia following the July 1997 factional fight­ing. Since that time, US aid has largely been funneled through NGOs, although some money has been sent to the government to support HIV/AIDS and family health services. In 2002, the US provided about $36.4 million in assistance, the most since 1995.

Reeker’s comments focused on efforts to prevent violence during and after the one-month campaigning period, and the role of the National Election Commis­sion to ensure that all parties have equal access to the media.

The US has provided about

$11 million since last fall for NGO programs such as voter and candidate education and to train election monitors.

US Embassy officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

In recent weeks, however, US Sen­ator Mitch McConnell and other US officials have criticized the Cambodian government. But Reeker’s comments struck an optimistic tone, citing Cambodia’s 93 percent voter registration and new election regulations. “This year…­Cambodians have the mech­an­isms in place for the credible election process they de­serve,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Watchdog Council, a coalition of unions, said last week it will stage a protest in front of the National Assembly June 18 during US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit and call upon the US official to ensure free and fair elections.

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