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Govt threatens to expel UN envoy

THE government has threatened the head of the UN Country Team (UNCT) with expulsion from Cambodia following the office’s criticisms of the passage of the long-awaited Anticorruption Law earlier this month.

In a letter to UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick dated Saturday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong said that the office “exceeded the limit of its mandate” by issuing a March 10 statement expressing concern about the lack of public consultation over the law.

“The unwarranted comments made by you in connection with the adoption of Cambodia’s Anticorruption Law is a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia,” Hor Namhong wrote.

The letter states that Vijay Nambiar, chief of cabinet of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, met with Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, in New York on Friday and informed him that the UN had not instructed the UNCT in Cambodia to “make any comment or suggestion to the media on the issue” of the draft law.

As a result, the letter adds, “any further repetition of such a behaviour would compel the Royal Government of Cambodia to resort to a persona non grata decision” – a formal diplomatic request that an envoy be withdrawn.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Sunday that the letter was intended as a “warning” to the UNCT.

“If the UN Country Team in Cambodia repeats its critical interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia, we will expel them as we did with Thailand,” he said, referring to the expulsion of the Thai embassy’s first secretary during a diplomatic row in November.

Under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a state may declare members of foreign missions persona non grata “at any time and without having to explain its decision”.

Hor Namhong’s warning follows a March 10 statement in which the UNCT noted its concern that the release of the draft Anticorruption Law and its debate by the National Assembly gave little time for public consultation and discussions.

“The draft Anti-Corruption law should undergo a transparent and participatory consultation process to ensure that it is consistent with international standards,” the statement read.

The UNCT also encouraged parliament “to allow sufficient time for Parliamentarians, civil society, donors and the UN to study the law so that if and where deemed necessary, amendments may be proposed for consideration”.

The law was passed by the National Assembly without amendment on March 11 and approved by the Senate in a swift session on Friday.

The UN comments have already prompted strong statements from the Foreign Ministry and the Council of Ministers Press and Quick Reaction Unit, both of which said the UN criticisms violated Cambodian sovereignty. The ministry also accused the UNCT of acting as the “spokesperson” of the country’s opposition parties.

Broderick could not be reached Sunday, and UNCT spokeswoman Margaret Lamb declined to comment on the foreign minister’s letter.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the expulsion of the UNCT would be a “major statement” for the government to make, but that the threat was likely a bluff.

“I think that the UN team should know full well that these threats don’t have any backbone behind them,” he said. The government “still needs the presence of the UN and Western aid”.

However, he said that Hor Namhong’s letter indicated the government’s reluctance to accept even mild criticisms.

“The Cambodian government releasing a statement like this says a lot more about the government than it does about the UN,” he said. “I don’t
think any people from these offices will take these threats seriously.”

Cheam Yeap, senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said that after its passage by the Senate on Friday, the Anticorruption Law will be submitted to the Constitutional Council on Monday before being forwarded to King Norodom Sihamoni and officially signed into law.

The law is not due to come into effect until at least November, when the Kingdom’s new Penal Code, which contains many of the definitions of and punishments for corrupt acts, enters into force.

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