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Congressional hearing trains sights on election

US chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, last month.  Reuters
US chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, last month. REUTERS

Congressional hearing trains sights on election

THE US Congress is set to hold a hearing today about the Cambodian election and whether the superpower’s foreign aid contributions should be re-examined. The last such hearing was held after the contentious and bloody 1998 elections.

Representatives from Licadho, Human Rights Watch and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) are set to testify, along with the CEO of an emerging markets investment firm called SRP International Group, according to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Titled none-too-subtly Cambodia’s Looming Political and Social Crisis, the hearing by the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee comes barely a month after a pair of US senators urged that aid outlays be reconsidered.

Licadho director Naly Pilorge said her group’s five-minute statement would focus on the human rights situation more broadly, including “land grabbing and impunity”.

“Basically, it’s the information we’ve always been saying over the past year, though there’s a bit more emphasis on the election since it’s coming up,” she said.

Laura Thornton, NDI senior director, said the election watchdog’s testimony would primarily focus on the Voter Registry Audit. The audit, carried out earlier this year by NDI and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, found fundamental flaws in the voter list including that more than 10 per cent of eligible voters who believed they had been registered were left off the list.

In a resolution proposed last month by senators Mark Rubio and Lindsey Graham, the pair called for greater accountability and said if the elections go ahead without significant changes – including the participation of opposition leader Sam Rainsy – US government agencies should “reassess and reduce assistance for Cambodia”, and encourage foreign institutions to follow suit.

The US government has been one of Cambodia’s largest bilateral donors since 1993, and $73.5 million in aid and military assistance has been earmarked for next year alone.

Human Rights Watch Asia Advocacy director John Sifton, one of the four set to testify, said he was fairly confident the hearing would result in a cut to military assistance and direct bilateral aid.

“I think the prospects are very good. Congress is definitely moving forward legislating a cut toward assistance to Cambodia,” he said.

Among the recommendations HRW would present was a call for “the US government to disassociate from Hun Sen”.

“Hun Sen uses his supposed friendship with the US as a shield and a weapon,” he added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong did not respond to questions regarding how such a hearing could affect diplomatic relationships, but Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan insisted the hearing was simply a façade for the US government to retain more control of Cambodia as a counter to China’s growing influence in the region.

“They should not insult Cambodia like that . . . They shouldn’t use Cambodia as a battleground like they did in 1970,” he said, adding that the hearing was part of a larger anti-Cambodia campaign which threatened to loosen the strong ties between the two nations.

Asked whether the Cambodian government had been invited to testify, Siphan replied that they had not. “It’s a one-sided hearing.”

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