Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Asean says 'No' - foreign aid put on ice

Asean says 'No' - foreign aid put on ice

Asean says 'No' - foreign aid put on ice

I NTERNATIONAL disapproval over Hun Sen's violent rout of his coalition partner, Funcinpec,

was backed by concrete measures in the days following the tragic fighting and looting

in the capital.

A major blow to Cambodia's political and economic future was the response from neighboring

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) states which decided July 10 to postpone

indefinitely the country's scheduled admission later this month into the regional

grouping.

"...in the light of unfortunate circumstances which have resulted from the use

of force, the wisest course of action is to delay the admission of Cambodia into

Asean until a later date," said Asean foreign ministers in a statement following

a crisis meeting in Kuala Lumpur over the issue.

The refusal to admit Cambodia into Asean came despite the group's commitment to the

principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.

"We don't accept this situation which has happened, we wanted to register our

disapproval. We don't want to interfere [but] there are principles and this is where

we stand," said one Phnom Penh-based Southeast Asian diplomat following the

decision.

"We want them [Hun Sen and Ranariddh] to reconcile. Without reconciliation,

the problem will continue. There's no end," he warned.

Asked what would be required for Cambodia to be accepted into the regional body,

the diplomat referred to a prior agreement to admit Cambodia on the basis of the

co-premiers signing letters expressing their wishes for the country to be admitted.

"Read between the lines and you see the message comes shining through,"

said the diplomat.

Asean foreign ministers said the group still recognizes Prince Norodom Ranariddh

as the co-premier of Cambodia.

At a press conference held before the Asean decision was announced, Hun Sen sought

to play down the significance of entry into the group.

"If Cambodia sees Asean interfere into the internal affairs of each other, we

will decide not to have to be a member of Asean," said Hun Sen on July 10.

He said that the country has managed up until now without being a member of the regional

body: "Before we are not members of Asean, but we can still survive."

The Asean move was matched by the US State Department, which ordered a "draw

down" of two-thirds of its embassy personnel in Phnom Penh.

According to a US Embassy spokesperson, 41 of the embassy's 61 diplomats are to be

flown out of the capital before July 20.

"We are urging Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh and all their political

associates to drop the sword and the gun and get back to the negotiating table,"

said the official, quoting from a US State Department briefing.

The draw down is "temporary" measure which would last for 30 days, after

which the return of the staff would be reviewed, said the official. It was unclear

whether the personnel would return to the US or reside in a third country during

the period.

Accompanying the decision to withdraw embassy officials, the State Department also

"encouraged" all US private citizens to leave Cambodia by commercial flights

"as soon as possible", said the embassy spokesperson.

The US response to the political shake-up in Cambodia and its violent aftermath hardened

with the announcement of a 30-day suspension of aid to the country.

While it is expected that "programs providing humanitarian aid" would resume

after the period, "depending on circumstances", the State Department does

not "anticipate a resumption of aid programs at current levels", said a

State Department official, Lorraine Toly, in Washington.

"It's a political signal," said the official adding that the US was working

"closely and actively" with Asean and backed the regional group's decision

to postpone Cambodia's admission.

The State Department official slammed the deterioration in the democratic process

resulting from recent political upheavals in the capital.

"We said the use of force to overturn the results of the elections is unacceptable.

Cambodian parties, including Funcinpec, must be allowed to operate freely,"

said Toly.

The official condemned the reported killings of senior Funcinpec officials, Ho Sok

and Chao Samboth.

"We are very disturbed by reports that indicate the responsibility of these

killings on the part of CPP. The killers must be apprehended and punished.

"An attempt to intimidate Cambodians for political views is completely unacceptable,"

she said.

In 1996, US aid to Cambodia totaled just over $40 million. Japan has already announced

it will suspend its aid program in Cambodia, which is around $70 million, in the

wake of the political violence which has shaken the country.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, Thomas

Hammerberg, has also strongly denounced what he termed a "violent coup d'etat."

In a statement released July 9, Hammerberg condemned the "overthrow of First

Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh by armed forces", saying that it violated

the Constitution and the 1993 UN-sponsored elections.

"The events of recent days violate the fundamental right of the Cambodian people

to choose its Government in a democratic fashion.

"I call on the de facto authorities to reverse this illegal action. The First

Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh must be allowed to reassume his office with

full respect for his personal security," wrote Hammerberg in the statement.

In a separate statement released a day earlier, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also

expressed dismay over "the loss of life" that was caused by the current

political crisis and urged the co-premiers to seek a resolution to the conflict through

negotiation.

The UN head said that he "was gratified" by "the earlier commitment"

of the coalition partners to hold a national poll in May next year and renewed the

UN pledge to coordinate observers for the ballot as requested by the co-premiers.

"The Secretary-General wishes to express in the strongest manner the vital importance

of making every effort to ensure that these elections, the first to be held by Cambodians

themselves since the departure of the United Nations peace-keeping force in 1993,

are free and fair," wrote Annan.

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