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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia seeks seat on UN Security Council

Cambodia seeks seat on UN Security Council

The Cambodian government has launched a campaign to join the United Nations Security

Council by 2006 via an official letter sent to diplomatic missions in Phnom Penh

early this month.

The letter circulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

(MFA) asked recipient nations to support Cambodia's bid during the 2005 election

to select non-permanent members of the Security Council.

"Having cooperated closely with the UN over the years, Cambodia has never assumed

an important role within this world body," the letter stated, according to diplomatic

accounts given to the Post.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia would highly appreciate your support for its

candidacy for the UN Security Council at the election to be held at 60th session

for the UN National Assembly in 2005."

Arguments in the letter justifying the Kingdom's candidacy included: signing the

Paris Peace Accords in 1991, accepting deployment of peacekeepers during UNTAC, allowing

the opening of the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh, and signing the agreement

to hold a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.

While several diplomats contacted said that taking credit for all these accomplishments

seemed exaggerated--in one case described as "amusing"--it was clearly

an effort to elevate Cambodia's standing within the international community.

Chum Sounry, Director of the Information Department at the MFA, said Cambodia had

worked hard to become a respected member of the international community. He said

membership on the Security Council would only enhance Cambodia's existing cooperation

with the UN.

"When Cambodia becomes a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security

Council, it will make Cambodia join more actively in implementing the UN principles

and treaties," he said.

If elected by the UN General Assembly, Cambodia would be one of ten nations on the

Security Council's rotating roster of non-permanent members. Cambodia will be vying

with the Middle Eastern country of Qatar for Asia's non-permanent seat on the Security

Council, said the MFA.

The move is part of a larger push by the government to polish Cambodia's image tarnished

by the anti-Thai riots, persistent human rights violations and national elections

tainted by violence and intimidation.

The warm reception recently given to the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative

for Human Rights, Peter Leuprecht, suggests the government might be rethinking its

approach toward certain issues such as human rights.

In the past, Leuprecht has not always been welcomed as positively as he was during

his visit in early December.

After his arrival, Leuprecht met Keat Chhon, the Minister of Economy and Finance,

and National Police Chief Hok Lundy. Leuprecht also appeared on the state-run television

channel TVK accompanied by Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom he met on December 1. During

the televised chat, Hun Sen said the UN's presence in Cambodia could continue "for

as long as the UN wants".

Regardless of the government's ultimate aims, joining the Security Council would

be a major diplomatic victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Although membership bestows limited voting privileges, it confers some legitimacy

on the world stage. It would also give Cambodia an unprecedented voice in international

affairs.

"They can initiate and push through key reforms [on the Security Council],"

said one Western diplomat. "If they can do that, they would definitely improve

their international image and self-confidence."

The government's letter stated it intended to address issues such as weapons of mass

destruction, counter-terrorism and others if elected.

However, the ability of the government's bureaucrats to manage the responsibilities

of a seat on the Security Council is in question according to at least one embassy

official whose country has served on the Security Council in the past.

"How the Cambodians are putting it is that [the Security Council] will get them

back into the international community," said the diplomat. "What it really

is is a hell of a lot of work. They need to beef up their staff...The resources [needed]

are really intensive."

But the MFA contends that their staff members would be ready.

"Most of the officials in the [MFA] have learned about diplomacy, international

law and have work experience," said Sounry. "We have human resources."

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