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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Ran.. Rana... " you know, that guy who runs the country

"Ran.. Rana... " you know, that guy who runs the country

S ENIOR US state department official Nancy Ely-Raphel recently completed a

48-hour visit to gather information for a human rights report on Cambodia that

will go before the US Congress.

It is an important report that diplomats

admit could "color" the debate on Cambodia's future aid from the United

States.

However, sources told the Post that Ely-Raphel - whose "patch"

also includes Vietnam and Laos - is inexperienced in international human rights

issues and is being led to prepare a predominately "good news"

report.

And... she forgot Prince Norodom Ranariddh's name.

During

a press conference just before her departure, Ely-Raphel was asked which

Cambodian government officials she had spoken to during her short

stay.

"I don't want to go into details of who I raised the issues with,

that's really part of our diplomatic dialogue," she said, adding to embassy

spokesman Frank Huffman: "I don't think the itinerary was made public was

it?"

"No," confirmed Huffman, "but I can't see a problem in saying who

they were." A list was produced and Ely-Raphel began: "the Minister of Foreign

Affairs, ahhh... the Prime Minister..."

The Prime Minister? "Which one?"

she was asked.

"Umm Ran... Rana...," Ms Ely-Raphel stammered, clearly

lost and looking over her shoulder for help from her

assistant.

"Ranariddh?... the first Prime Minister?" chorused the

assembled journalists.

"The first Prime Minister," Ely-Raphel remembered

amid much laughter: "Forgive me, I don't have all the protocol down here... its

a little confusing."

Ely-Raphel admitted that the visit was her first, to

"familiarize" herself with the area's human rights issues.

Under US law,

the State Department prepare human rights reports on 193 countries in all.

Huffman said that Ely-Raphel's report "is a factor that can affect the debate

[on bilateral aid]." However, he said the report "did not have a direct

relationship" on the Congress decision whether to cut or increase funding -

though Ely-Raphel had earlier indicated that the US would not give money to a

country with a poor human rights record.

Ely-Raphel said she thought the

human rights situation in Cambodia had "improved" since the May 93 elections,

but there were areas of concern.

One concern was "press related", though

she said despite intimidation Cambodia's press remained vigorous. Other concerns

were "freedom of expression"; "serious" questions about the human rights

violations by the military and the Khmer Rouge; and the draft labor law which

she said ran contrary to international conventions and also to the Cambodian

Constitution.

Questions put to Ely-Raphel about a range of other problems

- the intimidation of journalists and MPs, the future of the UNCHR, allegations

of mistreatment of minorities - were all a "concern to her

department".

Of the UNCHR, she said that all the officials she had spoken

to had assured her there was no problem and that "the center will indeed be

remaining in Cambodia."

She had also been told the criminal penalties in

the draft Press Law would be dropped but that the Khmer Journalists' Association

were worried that the civil penalties were too harsh.

Ely-Raphel said

that in many areas Cambodia's human rights record was superior to that of Laos

and Vietnam.

She said the Vietnamese government had voiced concerns about

the treatment and alleged persecution of Vietnamese nationals in Cambodia,

something she then raised with the Cambodian government.

She said the

Cambodian government told her that such cases could be dealt with under the

country's legal system. Ely-Raphel proceeded soon after to talk about the

inadequacies of Cambodia's legal system.

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