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MP questions Western commitment

MP questions Western commitment

T HE world's commitment to democracy and human rights in Cambodia has been

questioned by the National Assembly's leading human rights advocate.

Kem

Sokha, chairman of the assembly's Human Rights Commission, said foreign support

for human rights work in Cambodia appeared to be falling.

He believed

that was because countries that gave aid to Cambodia were seeking political

stability ahead of democratic development.

Sokha made his comments in a

June 5 interview, shortly after his return to Cambodia after a two month trip to

the United States and Canada.

During a meeting with US officials, he said

he was told: "Please don't push too fast to implement democracy in Cambodia. The

United States took a long time, 200 years, to implement democracy."

Sokha

said he had replied that democracy in Cambodia would be lost within five years

unless more effort was made to entrench it.

He said the officials had

pledged their continued support for human rights in Cambodia. He stressed that

the US had provided much support in the past, including to his Parliamentary

commission, "and I hope that they will continue to do so".

Sokha said the

international community had planted the seed of democracy in Cambodia - through

the UN-sponsored 1993 elections - and had an obligation to watch it

grow.

"The seed is growing but there are a lot of insects eating at it.

We need the insects to be removed, and water and fertilizer."

Before

Cambodia's elections, the world, and particularly the US, had told Cambodians

about the benefits of democracy.

"If the world community and the United

States will not continue to help....Cambodians will complain about those who

brought democracy to Cambodia but did not look after it."

In response to

a question, Sokha said: "I am not disappointed with any foreign officials

but...they leave me to work alone in human rights in Cambodia. They leave me

alone to live in the fire."

He said foreign countries were more reluctant

to support human rights work "because they think Cambodia needs

stability".

But he believed Cambodia would not be truly stable until

human rights were guaranteed, and that having entrenched political stability

would make it easier for people's rights to be violated.

Sokha was in

Canada when the country's Foreign Relations Minister, Andre Ouellet, spoke out

against the use of trade embargoes against countries with poor human rights

records.

In a change of Canadian policy, he said the best way to promote

democracy abroad was to boost trade with such countries, "irrespective of

whether they have dictatorships or...political governments that do not espouse

our own beliefs about human rights".

He made his comments after a two-day

private meeting with foreign ministers of countries in the Association of

Southeast Nations (ASEAN), of which Cambodia is seeking membership. He indicated

Canada's previous reluctance to trade with Asian countries such as Myanmar

(Burma) would change.

Sokha, asked about Oullet's comments, said he did

not agree with them. He said he thought that giving people rights and democratic

power was the best way to see a country develop and its rewards shared

equitably.

In the US, two draft laws giving Most Favored Nation (MFN)

trading status to Cambodia - making it more attractive to foreign investors -

are to be debated by Congress.

On his trip, Sokha urged the laws' authors

- Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Senator John McCain - to ensure MFN status

could be withdrawn if Cambodia's human rights record worsened.

One of the

draft laws specifically authorizes Congress or the President to suspend MFN

status to Cambodia at any time, and he hoped US officials would support such a

provision.

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