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Congressmen fear for speakers’ fate

Congressmen fear for speakers’ fate

Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith speaks to reporters Wednesday.

Advise US Embassy to offer ‘island of freedom’ to Lantos commission witnesses.

REPRESENTATIVES from the US Congress sent a letter to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh urging the protection of three Cambodians who testified in Washington, as the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought to downplay the significance of the US hearing.

Last Thursday, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua testified with Licadho rights group president Kek Galabru and Community Legal Education Centre labour programme head Moeun Tola in front of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a US congressional body that monitors human rights norms around the world. All three witnesses offered fierce criticisms of the government, with Mu Sochua testifying that Cambodian democracy is “experiencing an alarming free fall”.

On Tuesday, two members of the Tom Lantos commission sent a letter to US Ambassador Carol Rodley urging her to monitor the safety of the three witnesses when they return home to Cambodia.

“The US Embassy should represent an island of freedom in a country such as Cambodia, where dissidents and human rights defenders often face threats and discrimination by the government and government-controlled security forces,” US congressmen James Moran and Frank Wolf wrote.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs secretary of state Ouch Borith dismissed concern for the safety of Mu Sochua and the other witnesses on Wednesday as overblown, comparing them to other prominent figures associated with the opposition.

“Have we ever arrested [SRP head] Sam Rainsy?” Ouch Borith asked. “Sam Rainsy is a leading party representative, and he always wants to speak badly about Cambodia when he travels abroad.... As for [Mu Sochua’s] return to Cambodia, don’t worry about this.”

Ouch Borith went on to dispute Mu Sochua’s characterisation of a meeting she had with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Friday. On Sunday, Mu Sochua told the Post that Clinton expressed interest in sending a US State Department delegation to Cambodia later this year, and “made it very clear that she does not wish to see further deterioration” in the Kingdom’s rights situation.

Ouch Borith said that during a recent meeting with Carol Rodley, the US ambassador clarified to him that the meeting between Clinton and Mu Sochua “was not official – it took place outside [Clinton’s] office”.

To the issue of the US delegation, Ouch Borith said Clinton “didn’t respond at all”.

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson confirmed in an email on Wednesday that Clinton “did meet briefly with Mu Sochua to discuss the current situation in Cambodia” but did not offer further details regarding the meeting.


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