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US election gaffes spread to Cambodia

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US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Warsaw, Poland, last month. Photograph: Reuters

US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s senior foreign policy adviser has likened Prime Minister Hun Sen to Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe and the former Sudanese president indicted for genocide, Omar Al Bashir, all while mispronouncing the premier’s name.

During a discussion featuring Romney adviser Rich Williamson held at the Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution on July 25, the aide lumped “Hun Sun” in with other “less than pleasant guys” he had been forced to deal with.

“For better or worse, whether it’s Hun Sun [sic] or Robert Mugabe or Omar Al Bashir, I’ve dealt with some less than pleasant guys. And saying you are not doing good things never surprises them, they know they’re not,” Williamson said.

Williamson made the comments, first flagged on the popular online forum Khmer 440, during a foreign policy discussion with Michele Flournoy, co-chair of the National Security Advisory Committee for Obama for America.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, himself a US citizen and Republican, said yesterday it would be more constructive for Williamson to seek to strengthen relations with countries such as Cambodia, as Barack Obama had done, than make such remarks.

“I think that is groundless [the remark] and it would not be a wise idea to help US foreign policy,” he said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay called the comment “strange” given that Cambodia at least had the basics of democracy in terms of institutions.

“I think it’s unfair to our prime minister,” he said.

Romney’s foreign policy has been under scrutiny lately because of a series of gaffes made on overseas trips. The campaign did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Omar Al Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide allegedly committed against tribes in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Though Mugabe has widely been accused of crimes against humanity as well, no action has been taken against him by the ICC, which would have to secure a UN Security Council resolution to charge the Zimbabwean President.

A dossier supporting allegations that Hun Sen has committed crimes against humanity by forcibly displacing segments of the population has been submitted to ICC but legal analysts say the case has practically no chance of ever seeing the light of day.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com

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