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Hun Sen warns councillors

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HENG CHIVOAN

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks Wednesday at a decentralisation conference in Phnom Penh.  

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has warned that future district, provincial and municipal councillors - to be elected through indirect nationwide elections in May - should not meddle in foreign affairs, despite the impending devolution of political power to the sub-national level.

Hun Sen, speaking to more than a hundred high-ranking government officials at Chaktomuk Theatre Wednesday during a decentralisation conference, highlighted the Taiwan-China dispute as one in which council members should hold their tongues.

"After the election, if the councils become independent and recognise Taiwanese independence, it will be wrong, as there is no such law," Hun Sen said, referring to Beijing's commitment to a "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan.

"Cambodia recognises the one-China policy," he said.

Cheam Yeap, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People's Party , said that the prime minister was merely expressing concerns that the new councils may become confused about central government policy.

"The premier's message was to repeat government policy so that the new councils understand our foreign policy," he said.

On May 17, Cambodia will hold its first elections for positions on district, provincial and municipal councils as part of the government's drive to transfer more decision-making powers to the local level.

Hun Sen said also that the central government does not have sufficient ability to effectively provide public services in the Kingdom's remotest areas, and that it was preparing local administrations by equipping them with staff, finances and other resources.

"We hope that the reform will provide better services and bring about a reduction in poverty," he said, adding that after the May elections, councils will be able to remove local officials if their performance falls below a certain level.

But Sam Rainsy Party  lawmaker Yim Sovann said that since the only eligible voters were sitting members of the country's commune councils, local people would have no hand in electing new officials.

"People are not able to express their rights to elect their leaders in their districts and provinces," he said. "The SRP will participate in the election. We will have our representatives, who will act as a watchdog over local developments."

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