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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Human rights worries puts MFN in danger

Human rights worries puts MFN in danger

C AMBODIA'S treasured prize of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status with the United

States is in serious - possibly mortal - trouble.

The Senate's powerful Finance Committee is, at the very least, about to add critical

riders to the law that will link MFN with improvements to Cambodia's human rights.

Worse still - the law granting MFN might never even reach a final Senate vote; and

if that is so, it will never get to President Bill Clinton's desk.

The Cambodian Government, when alerted to the moves this week, reacted with concern,

warning about an inevitable "deterioration of relationships" between the

two countries should conditions be slapped on MFN.

"I don't think Hun Sen and Ranariddh are really aware of the level of concern

within Congress about these (human rights and democracy) issues," said Daniel

Bob, special assistant in Asia Affairs to Senator Bill Roth.

"I don't know if they are aware how closely we are following this... The direction

they are taking is not good... not good at all".

Roth is chairman of the Finance Committee, and as such can "kill" any bill

before it reaches the full Senate "because that's the sort of power a chairman

here has if he doesn't want it brought up," Bob said.

Bob, in an interview with the Post from Washington D.C., said that Roth has been

"consistently and seriously concerned about human rights violations in Cambodia

in the past 18 months".

"And now that bill (MFN) is about to go through his committee.

"He knows all about Sam Rainsy, and now Sirivudh, and is concerned about the

direction the current leadership in Cambodia is taking. He has written several letters

(to the Royal Government) about the Rainsy issue.

"I fully expect some (conditions linking MFN to human rights) to be put into

the legislation," Bob said.

"At the very least, there will be something in the bill that makes it known

that Congress is going to be watching Cambodia very closely in terms of human rights

and democracy".

Cambodia's MFN law is likely to go before Roth's committee "very early next

year, though it could be this year," Bob said.

The Post is aware that Congressman Ben Gilman is also heavily involved in lobbying

for conditions to be put on Cambodia's hoped-for MFN status - if not a full denial

of MFN - though Bob said he could not comment on that.

When asked whether Roth could have the MFN legislation vetoed entirely, Bob said:

"That is certainly one option we will consider... again, there is Roth and a

lot of members both in the House (of Representatives) and the Senate who are worried...

There are no partisan politics involved here, the concern is from Democrats, Republicans

and Liberals".

When asked if such a measure could hurt the Cambodian people more than it would the

Royal Government, Bob said: "There are no decisions yet on how this would be

done... If something is to be done - and it will in my opinion unless there are sudden,

drastic changes - there are an infinite variety of things we can do.

"We clearly want to have an impact focus more on those who are responsible with

what's going on now... I think we probably would".

"This is their (Cambodia's) economic future we're talking about here, which

is in some degree controlled by the US," he said.

Commerce Minister Cham Prasith was taken aback by the news when contacted for comment

by the Post.

"I have heard nothing about this... I want to clarify that normally the Senate

would approve such bills without any connections with human rights issues.

"If they now take into account human rights issues they will be creating a precedent.

We have not heard anything about any problems with (our) human rights from the Senate...

if they are concerned why raise this issue now and condemn a whole country on the

allegations of a small group of people? Are these allegations correct?

"If the Senate approves MFN with conditions it would be very discouraging for

the Royal Government, because there would be no investors (interested) in coming

to Cambodia with such conditions.

"I think that if there are any moves not carefully thought over by the Senate

there would be a deterioration of our relationship.

"There is a small group of people who would like to kill Cambodia. They have

political gains to make.

"I urge the Senate not to play the games of these people."

When asked if he was refering specifically to Khmer Nation leader Sam Rainsy, Prasith

said: "Yes Sir."

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