C AMBODIA'S treasured prize of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status with the United
States is in serious - possibly mortal - trouble.
The Senate's powerful Finance Committee is, at the very least, about to add critical
riders to the law that will link MFN with improvements to Cambodia's human rights.
Worse still - the law granting MFN might never even reach a final Senate vote; and
if that is so, it will never get to President Bill Clinton's desk.
The Cambodian Government, when alerted to the moves this week, reacted with concern,
warning about an inevitable "deterioration of relationships" between the
two countries should conditions be slapped on MFN.
"I don't think Hun Sen and Ranariddh are really aware of the level of concern
within Congress about these (human rights and democracy) issues," said Daniel
Bob, special assistant in Asia Affairs to Senator Bill Roth.
"I don't know if they are aware how closely we are following this... The direction
they are taking is not good... not good at all".
Roth is chairman of the Finance Committee, and as such can "kill" any bill
before it reaches the full Senate "because that's the sort of power a chairman
here has if he doesn't want it brought up," Bob said.
Bob, in an interview with the Post from Washington D.C., said that Roth has been
"consistently and seriously concerned about human rights violations in Cambodia
in the past 18 months".
"And now that bill (MFN) is about to go through his committee.
"He knows all about Sam Rainsy, and now Sirivudh, and is concerned about the
direction the current leadership in Cambodia is taking. He has written several letters
(to the Royal Government) about the Rainsy issue.
"I fully expect some (conditions linking MFN to human rights) to be put into
the legislation," Bob said.
"At the very least, there will be something in the bill that makes it known
that Congress is going to be watching Cambodia very closely in terms of human rights
Cambodia's MFN law is likely to go before Roth's committee "very early next
year, though it could be this year," Bob said.
The Post is aware that Congressman Ben Gilman is also heavily involved in lobbying
for conditions to be put on Cambodia's hoped-for MFN status - if not a full denial
of MFN - though Bob said he could not comment on that.
When asked whether Roth could have the MFN legislation vetoed entirely, Bob said:
"That is certainly one option we will consider... again, there is Roth and a
lot of members both in the House (of Representatives) and the Senate who are worried...
There are no partisan politics involved here, the concern is from Democrats, Republicans
When asked if such a measure could hurt the Cambodian people more than it would the
Royal Government, Bob said: "There are no decisions yet on how this would be
done... If something is to be done - and it will in my opinion unless there are sudden,
drastic changes - there are an infinite variety of things we can do.
"We clearly want to have an impact focus more on those who are responsible with
what's going on now... I think we probably would".
"This is their (Cambodia's) economic future we're talking about here, which
is in some degree controlled by the US," he said.
Commerce Minister Cham Prasith was taken aback by the news when contacted for comment
by the Post.
"I have heard nothing about this... I want to clarify that normally the Senate
would approve such bills without any connections with human rights issues.
"If they now take into account human rights issues they will be creating a precedent.
We have not heard anything about any problems with (our) human rights from the Senate...
if they are concerned why raise this issue now and condemn a whole country on the
allegations of a small group of people? Are these allegations correct?
"If the Senate approves MFN with conditions it would be very discouraging for
the Royal Government, because there would be no investors (interested) in coming
to Cambodia with such conditions.
"I think that if there are any moves not carefully thought over by the Senate
there would be a deterioration of our relationship.
"There is a small group of people who would like to kill Cambodia. They have
political gains to make.
"I urge the Senate not to play the games of these people."
When asked if he was refering specifically to Khmer Nation leader Sam Rainsy, Prasith
said: "Yes Sir."