Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ambassador under fire from DC...

Ambassador under fire from DC...

Ambassador under fire from DC...

UNITED STATES Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn has come under attack from a number

of sources for a variety of alleged offenses including being "pro-Hun Sen",

failing to encourage or protect opposition politicians, inaccurate reporting to the

State Department in the lead-up to the coup and refusing protection to those who

felt threatened after the fighting on July 5-6.

The assault against Quinn is being led by US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican

representative from California whose constituency includes America's largest, 50,000-strong

Cambodian community in Long Beach.

Rohrabacher, in a statement at a US House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing

on July 16, said that he was concerned that "the Department of State, especially

Ambassador Ken Quinn in Phnom Penh, have been irresponsible in their responsibility

to deter Hun Sen and his forces from violence or to enforce US policy against narco-terrorist

governments. In addition, I believe that the US embassy has not taken adequate action

to protect the safety of American citizens in Cambodia."

Rohrabacher's Legislative Assistant Al Santoli used even harsher language to criticize

US policy.

"For the US to kowtow to a little murderous dictator who's dependent on our

money - that's not America's role," Santoli told the Post by phone from Washington.

Rohrabacher's statement included a request that Quinn be immediately recalled from

Cambodia to appear before the subcommittee to explain his actions. The Congressman

also sent a request to the State Department that all cables and communications between

Phnom Penh and Washington from March of this year be released to his office.

There is "bipartisan concern" about Quinn's "alienation of opposition

parties and his appearances with [alleged drug trafficker] Teng Boonma or with Hun

Sen sponsored by Teng Boonma," explained Santoli. "If push came to shove,

we would get subpoenas" to get the cables, he added.

Washington insiders say that it is unlikely that the State Department will release

the cables, primarily because Rohrabacher's request was made on his own and without

going through the committee process to engender greater Congressional support for

the demand.

Quinn, for his part, told the Post in a prepared statement: "I would hope that

requests for the Embassy's reporting would go back to mid 1996 when I first warned

of the danger of a return to violence and the threat to the fragile democracy which

had been established."

Echoing Rohrabacher's concerns, Ron Abney, the International Republican Institute's

former Cambodian country director who was wounded in the March 30 grenade attack,

testified at the House hearing that Quinn was less supportive of the Cambodian opposition

than his predecessor Ambassador Charles Twining. Abney said he believed this lack

of encouragement "has resulted in the intimidation harassment [sic] of these

people."

On top of these accusations, a Human Rights Watch/Asia report released on Aug 24

alleges that the US Embassy in Phnom Penh "has refused sanctuary and provided

minimal assistance to Cambodians facing political persecution."

The State Department has defended Quinn. When asked a question about the US Embassy

refusing asylum and not protecting threatened persons, State Department spokesman

Nicholas Burns Jul 17 rejected these charges and added that Quinn "has argued

face to face with Hun Sen that he cease intimidation."

As further support for the embassy's actions, Quinn noted that on Aug 4 the head

of the UN Centre for Human Rights wrote to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

to say "...the allegation regarding Ambassador Quinn and the US Embassy rejecting

a request for asylum is not factually accurate."

Quinn also defended his treatment of Cambodia's opposition parties. "Perhaps

my most moving conversation in Cambodia came in a discussion I had with KNP leader

Sam Rainsy on March 20, when Rainsy told me, 'There had never been a time I did not

feel I had received the US Embassy's full support'," the ambassador said.

A larger issue under debate among American Cambodia watchers is the question of what

or who is driving US policy on Cambodia. Some Washington-based analysts speculate

that until the coup the policy was driven by Quinn himself, mostly because the position

of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific was vacant. With the

appointment of Stanley Roth to fill the slot, some observors speculate that policy

will become more "Washington-driven" and that "DC politics" may

have an impact on the US stance.

Quinn stressed that there was only one school of thought within the State Department

on Cambodia. "The US does not favor any person or party, but rather supports

the democratic process," he said, adding that this point was emphasized again

and again in more than 40 demarches to government officials he had made prior to

the fighting, all of which warned of the consequences for US-Cambodian relations

of a return to violence.

In any event, the debate in Washington is likely to continue.

"There's a lot of inquiry remaining, and a lot of evidence to be reviewed,"

said Santoli. He added that Quinn seems to be "sending the absolute wrong signals

to Hun Sen, Teng Boonma and his cronies. He's kind of become the April Glaspie of

Cambodia," referring to the US ambassaddor to Iraq who reportedly told Saddam

Hussein that the US would look the other way if he invaded Kuwait. Her diplomatic

career ended abruptly.

However, it remains to be seen whether or not the debate on Capitol Hill will heat

up. But according to one Washigton-based analyst the last shot has not been fired:

"There's been a lot of money sunk in Cambodia and people on the Hill are out

for blood."

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