Search form

Login - Register | FOLLOW US ON

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Democracy or diplomacy? US depts clash over Cambodia

Democracy or diplomacy? US depts clash over Cambodia

THE United States has got itself into a tangle of divided opinions about Cambodia's

progress toward democracy and human rights.

A recent US General Accounting Office (GAO) report quotes sources saying that the

1998 general elections - if held at all - are unlikely to be peaceful, and that human

and political rights abuses in Cambodia are worsening.

This clashes with the generally positive diplomatic messages being given to Phnom

Penh leadership by the Departments of State and Defense and USAID.

State, Defense and USAID look to the progress Cambodia has made since the 1991 Paris

Accords. The GAO - the US government's public auditing watchdog - says that approach

is misleading because UNTAC was responsible for much of the progress between 1991

and 1993. Since UNTAC, the progress toward democratic governance and protecting human

rights has been "limited."

New US ambassador Kenneth Quinn will likely need some silky diplomacy to explain

to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen why the GAO says, for instance, that "fear

of violence and intimidation by CPP is a key concern for other parties", or

about concerns that the police "will be used [by CPP] to sponsor violence against

policital opponents, as they were in 1993."

One human rights lawyer said that US diplomats will try to soften the GAO's hard

line when they talk to Cambodian leaders."This is typical," he said. "The

US - like most other countries - just want stability here, and if Hun Sen can provide

that, then forget about niceties like human and political rights."

Quinn's predecessor Charles Twining was conciliatory towards Cambodia's democratic

problems to the point that he was told by one Washington chief to "remember

who you work for." Twining's own embassy staff privately complained that he

had spiked diplomatic cables that he thought were too critical of aspects of the

Cambodian government's performance.

US information Service (USIS) director Frank Huffman - a State Department employee

- agreed that the GAO's report could give the Cambodian leadership mixed signals

"because [the Cambodians] don't understand how complex, and with how many voices

the US government speaks.'

Huffman said US democracy was "very messy" and that mixed signals were

dealt with "all the time."

"That's how we come to decisions, with discussions and resolutions. There are

many conflicting opinions in the US [government]."

Huffman said he did not know how much significance or influence the GAO report would

have. "The GAO look at problems of resource wastage and abuse," he said.

"They look at how the taxpayers money is being spent, rather than commenting

on policy."

"[The GAO] could indirectly affect policy if it persuades members [of the House

or Congress] that money is being wasted [in Cambodia]," Huffman said.

Huffman said he was not aware whether Cambodian leaders had questioned US diplomats

and officials in Phnom Penh about what "official" line they should acknowledge

as coming from the US. "To my knowledge that question has not been put. No,"

he said.

The GAO report is extremely grim about Cambodia's progress toward free elections,

human rights and land mine clearance.

Cambodia has done little to prepare for national elections, the GAO says, saying

some "US and other foreign officials" doubt that politicians and voters

will be secure against violent intimidation and retaliation if elections are held.

Progress toward human rights has been "limited", and toward political rights

"intolerant." The GAO says there has been a lack of progress toward mine

clearing due to leadership, planning and funding problems.

The Departments of State and Defense and USAID were asked to comment on the first

draft of the GAO report.

Defense said the GAO had ignored various political realities and nuances (including

that Hun Sen's CPP was "developing cleavages") "that should be factored

into the grim, realistic but one-dimensional picture" that the GAO depicted.

It wasn't "entirely outside the realm of the possible" for the Royal Government

to build an electoral framework by 1998 and, besides, "the Cambodian population

demonstrated once before how willing it was to take part in the expression of individual

political preference," the Defense Department said.

Defense said that messages from vocal critics like Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha "seem

to get through and gain currency in the countryside" and that they had a "slim

but salient chance" to influence politics.

Defense said that it was not correct for the GAO to say that the CPP controlled the

police and military.

It said: "It appears that the police are loyal to Sar Kheng and his associates,

representing a faction of the CPP. That loyalty has more to do with personal alliances

and support for the views espoused by the likes of Sin Song, who plotted the last

abortive coup, than it has to do with commitments to the party itself."

Defense also said that the military - though "disorganized, top heavy, beset

with budgetary problems, diminished morale and weak leadership" - was not under

the control of any one political party.

In evidence, Defense said: "Hun Sen has come to rely on a palace guard as his

protection force, largely because he was not inclined to count on the loyalty of

a military that has stood by the side of the government without choosing sides [during

the abortive coups]."

State said the GAO report was "highly selective" and "taken out of


Cambodia's history should be taken into account and understood to show that much

progress had been made, State said.

USAID said Cambodian leadership supported the elections, and that "a legacy

of long-term authoritarian rule cannot be unlearned overnight."

The GAO considered the arguments of Defense, the State and USAID - all of which said

that the Cambodian picture was more optimistic than the GAO suggested. In general

however, the GAO stood by its original - grim - findings.

The GAO said it recognized the devestating effects of the Khmer Rouge regime, but

the conditions of civil war and genocide that existed before 1991 were not the benchmarks

by which this present Government should be judged.

"We believe that the standards of behaviour set out in the Paris Peace Accords,

the various international conventions that Cambodia has signed, and the Cambodian

Constitution are appropriate standards against which to measure the current government's




Please, login or register to post a comment

Latest Video

Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

With an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Erdogan quashed only days ago and more than 7,000 alleged conspirators now under arrest, the Turkish ambassador to Cambodia yesterday pressed the govern

CNRP lawmakers beaten

Two opposition lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea were beaten unconscious during protests in Phnom Penh, as over a thousand protesters descended upon the National Assembly.

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Students at Phnom Penh's Liger Learning Center have written and published a new book, "The Cambodian Economy".