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US auditors pessimistic about progress

THE US General Accounting Office (GAO) is pessimistic about Cambodia's prospects

of holding general elections in 1998.

In February the GAO also reported on Cambodia's progress toward human and political

rights and on mineclearing.

At best, GAO called progress on all three fronts "limited".

At worst, the gap between what the Royal Cambodian Government says and what it's

doing is "inconsistent". There won't be free and fair elections; human

rights abuses will continue; political intolerance will worsen; and demining will

still be plagued by inefficiency, imposing a heavy social and economic burden.

The GAO said Cambodian leaders accepted a commitment to democracy, human rights and

economic development when they signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1991. The Constitution

guaranteed those rights, and committed the country to elections by 1998.

Achieving this was a primary objective of US foreign policy in southeast Asia, and

was also a "major factor" for the international community pumping $2.8

billion into UNTAC.

USAID, the GAO said, planned to spend $111 million over three years to ensure that

progress was made in these areas.

Holding Free and Fair National Elections by 1998.

The GAO highlights the following points within Cambodia:

  1. There is no election law or framework;
  2. Limited human and financial resources;
  3. International assistance is uncertain;
  4. And the proposed local elections in 1997 may divert funding, people and attention

    from a national election the following year.

The GAO said that Cambodia lacked laws, regulations, an independent commission,

people and money to hold elections - and that the Government had accomplished little

in trying to fix that situation.

The UN electoral assistance unit could help organize an election "but this would

require a significant financial commitment from the international community."

Foreign officials doubt whether the international community would support another

costly, large-scale operation as they did with UNTAC.

Some officials supported local elections in 1997 as helping to introduce democratic

principles at a local level. Others said it would only divert money and people away

from the task of holding a national election.

"Anti-democratic government officials could use local elections as evidence

of democratic progress and then cancel local elections," it said.

On whether any general election would be "free and fair", the GAO said:

  1. The CPP-controlled Interior Ministry was drafting the election law;
  2. That process was not open to public comment and participation;
  3. CPP used the ministry to intimidate opponents before the 1993 elections;
  4. And that fear of violence and intimidation by CPP is a key concern for other

    parties.

Quoting US and foreign officials, and NGOs, the GAO said: "The Cambodian

government cannot ensure that parties would campaign without violent intimidation

and that voters would feel free from retaliation."

UNTAC couldn't control key ministries before the 1993 elections, some of which the

CPP used to sponsor violence, it said.

NGOs reported that Funcinpec and BLDP members felt that "politically motivated

violence is a key issue". CPP members, the report said, did not.

Opposition groups didn't have equal access to the media which was important to the

election process. Cambodian political parties - CPP apart - didn't have the leadership,

organization or money to conduct an effective nationwide campaign, the GAO said.

CPP - being so strong and organized - could also benefit more than others from USAID-funded

"democracy" projects to strengthen the capabilities of political parties,

the report said.

Meeting Human Rights and Political Rights Standards.

The GAO "highlights" include:

  1. Military and police continue to violate human rights frequently;
  2. Few Cambodians receive due process or fair trial;
  3. Prisons remain overcrowded and prisoners mistreated.

Despite signing all major international agreements, the GAO reported some officials

saying that Cambodia's human rights record has worsened during 1995.

The GAO said there were many reports of police and soldiers extorting and stealing,

and beating others. This touched on the larger problem of inadequate pay that has

led to "endemic" and growing corruption.

The report noted the rule of law was being undermined by corruption, and inexperience

and ineptitude in the legal system. Prisons remained overcrowded and fell short of

meeting basic international standards.

"In late 1994, NGOs reported that they found a secret government prison where

prisoners were tortured and denied basic human needs. According to the Department

of State, this prison was closed in 1994."

The GAO said recent government actions were indications of an increasing intolerance

of dissenting opinion, which has had a "chilling effect on efforts to improve

government effectiveness... and to reduce corruption." USAID was quoted as being

among the sources for this information. The report mentioned Rainsy's expulsion;

newspaper closures; journalists being killed and beaten; and the PMs' failed attempt

to close the UNCHR office as examples.

On mine clearing, the GAO said, that only about 20 square kilometers of land had

been cleared since 1992 - enough to support only a few thousand refugees. Mines placed

a huge burden on social services and national development, it said.

The sheer numbers of mines, not knowing where exactly they are, and the cost and

time spent to get rid of them helped explain Cambodia's "lack of progress"

in mine-clearing.

However, US-trained de-mining units were hindered by a lack of money from the Cambodian

government, "poor senior leadership, and lack of a clear mission," the

GAO said.

"US military officials in Cambodia estimate that these units have cleared less

than one square kilometer of land."

The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) had been hindered from the start by limited

funding, and lately by the uncertainty from where more money would come.

"Cambodia's national development strategy does not directly address specific

mine-clearing objectives, priorities, or requirements associated with various development

objectives.

Also, it has yet to integrate RCAF, CMAC, or NGO mine clearing, or assign them roles

or tasks. CMAC has been tasked to develop a national mine-clearing strategy, but

it is not scheduled to complete this task until July 1996."

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