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US letter just the start: SRP

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Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua (R) speaks during a march by Sam Rainsy Party supporters in Phnom Penh last week. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua (R) speaks during a march by Sam Rainsy Party supporters in Phnom Penh last week. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

A biting rebuke of the premier by a dozen US lawmakers will likely be followed by further American government censure, said a senior opposition lawmaker who has been working closely with members of the US Congress.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that the congressional letter was “just the beginning” of related US action and that she was confident US President Barack Obama would raise such issues during his visit next week.

“There will be more to come like the resolution in the Congress. Not just this letter; it’s just the beginning. You can see it’s bipartisan. It’s by the people who hold the strings.

“I’m sure that Obama is quite committed and his language will be very strong,” she said, adding she hoped a meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Hun Sen would be constructive rather than confrontational.

Sochua said both she and Sam Rainsy had been instrumental in pushing for the letter and a resolution, which she was certain would be passed by Congress when it sits later this month.

“As I said, the reason is that we have enough, enough support and evidence that there have been years and years of violations of human rights,” she said, stressing that they had made no request to Congress to consider suspending aid.

The October 31 letter, signed by the likes of former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, urges Obama to confront Hun Sen on multiple high-profile alleged rights abuses.

It also called for reforms to Cambodia’s electoral commission and for Rainsy to be pardoned from criminal convictions that the SRP argues were politically motivated, so the opposition leader can return from self-imposed exile in time for the July 2013 elections.

None of the senators or members of Congress who were signatory to the letter have responded to repeated inquiries.

No official response to the provocative letter has been issued by Phnom Penh and officials at the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Information as well as various government spokesmen either did not answer their phones yesterday or had them switched off.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, said silence was an appropriate response that showed an understanding of the machinations of the US political system. He also questioned what outcome the senators were actually trying to achieve.

“Be careful what you ask for, because Hun Sen can be tough if he wants to be, and China doesn’t raise those issues, and Cambodia and Hun Sen, they’ve pointed that out repeated times,” he said.

“Is this a political stunt or do you have a strategy to follow up? Are we going to vote for resolutions in the Senate, are we going to restrict money to the embassy or aid to Cambodia to punish them, to pressure them on human rights? What do you do next?”

But though they have little material impact, a resolution might serve as a “warning shot” signalling a hostile Congress that could wield power on Cambodian interests such as trade preferences for the garment sector and debt forgiveness, allowed Thayer.

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

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