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Backflip on UN expulsion

The government has apparently done an about face on its stance over the closure of the United Nations human rights office in Phnom Penh.

An official has contradicted previous claims that the government had requested the unconditional closure of the office.

In a meeting with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed that Christophe Peschoux, the long-time head of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, resign from his post.

“If Mr Peschoux is not removed, then the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh will be closed,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after the meeting.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith confirmed later that the office would be closed regardless, quoting Hun Sen as having requested the closure of the OHCHR office on the grounds that “other countries in the world don’t have human rights offices, and Cambodia doesn’t want this office either”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong has backed away from Khieu Kanharith’s comments, insisting the government would ask the UN to close the office only as a last resort.

“He [Peschoux] is a spokesperson for the opposition party and does not cooperate with the government of Cambodia,” he said.

Koy Kuong said said Peschoux had failed to adhere to the agreement between the government and the UN that established the office.

“We don’t just want to close [it], we just want the UN to replace Christophe Peschoux,” he said. “If they do not replace him, they [the UN] should close down the office.”

He called the OHCHR “unnecessary” and said there were countless human rights groups capable of filling its role, but reiterated that the office’s closure would only come as a last-ditch measure if Peschoux was not removed.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG...read the full story in tomorrow’s Phnom Penh Post or see the updated story online from 3PM UTC/GMT +7 hours.

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