A senior US State Department official visiting the Kingdom said yesterday that any solution to the current political deadlock would have to come from within Cambodia and not from foreign powers.
Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was on a two-day visit to Cambodia and met with government and opposition officials, civil society groups and business representatives.
Marciel said that although the US supports stronger democracy in Cambodia, “any solution has to be a Cambodian solution”.
“We are not here to try and impose any solutions, but we certainly support efforts to strengthen Cambodia’s democratic process,” he said at a press conference.
His words come less than two weeks after the Cambodia National Rescue Party staged three days of rallies and marches in the capital to call on the United Nations, the US and other signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements to help in resolving the political deadlock. Marciel said he had engaged in an “exchange of views” with the opposition, though emphasised the US as being an impartial friend of Cambodia that was not looking so much for influence as it was “partnership”.
“Again, the US government’s role here is not to give political advice to the government or to the opposition … this has to be solved among Cambodians,” he said. “We’ve certainly encouraged everybody involved to continue the dialogue . . . Discussion, restraint, that is really important and that’s our consistent message.”
Although he said the US would not take sides, Marciel echoed his government’s consistent push for an investigation into election irregularities – a key CNRP demand.
“We did say and have said consistently after the election that we think because there were allegations of irregularities, when that happens, anywhere around the world, it’s useful for there to be a credible and transparent investigation.”
The US has not offered any official congratulations to the ruling party following the election.
On September 23, the US embassy issued a statement saying that US Ambassador William E Todd’s attendance at the inauguration of the National Assembly with 55 opposition lawmakers absent was not an endorsement of the election outcome.
CNRP officials yesterday declined to comment on what was discussed during their meeting with Marciel.
But party spokesman Yim Sovann said he saw no contradiction between Marciel’s words and the party’s strategy.
“I don’t think so. It’s a Cambodian solution. We are Cambodian. We try to find the solution peacefully and we just want some countries that signed the agreements to take more responsibility to Cambodia,” he said. “His visit is part of finding the solution.”
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his meeting with Marciel was a positive one.
“I am happy to have met with him today as an old friend . . . He raised the US policy of supporting Cambodia both politically and economically, which is a key part of our cooperation,” Borith said. “He also addressed his meeting with the opposition party, but stated [the US] did not support the opposition and that the most important part of US policy was its support for democracy.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said he was not surprised by the emphasis on a local solution, given the recent election was characterised by its mass mobilisation of the youth and wider population. “I think the Cambodian people can influence the outcome of the negotiations and a compromise between the parties,” he said. “It’s disempowering to always wait for outside support . . . I think Cambodians need to start to believe that they matter and that they can affect change. That would ensure a strengthening of democracy in this country.”
Political analyst Peter Tan Keo said that the carefully balanced language from the US shows it “isn’t willing to rock the boat”.
“Though we may never see the US congratulate the CPP for having won the elections, they will conduct business as usual with the government because there’s either too much at stake or Cambodia isn’t that important compared to other regional partners,” he said.
Tan Keo added, however, that despite taking this pragmatic position, the US should consider the future of democratic freedom in Cambodia.
“The Obama administration shouldn’t be so quick to put their stamp on anything that reeks of even an ounce of political illegitimacy. It sends the wrong message to the Cambodian people and does more harm than good in the long run.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG